It's impossible for diehard fans of Degrassi: The Next Generation not to remember Jake Epstein's musician character, Craig Manning. He appeared on the show from the second to fifth season — and incredibly, he's returning for a brief stint this season on Netflix's Degrassi: Next Class.
According to TV Guide, Jake will be playing a celebrity judge at a charity talent show on the sixth episode, "#FactsOnly." And his iMDb page says that he'll be back for a second episode, "#ThrowbackThursday." It makes perfect sense that his character would be judging a talent show, considering Craig's music skills.
Jake chatted with another seasoned Degrassi vet, Adamo Ruggiero, who played the adorable Marco Del Rossi. The actors ruminated on their time at Degrassi Community High, and discussed what they think their characters would be up to today.
"I think he's doing great," Jake said of Craig, who thinks he went on to study psychology after leaving high school to pursue music. "I would think that he went back to school, online correspondence courses."
Adamo said he thinks Marco moved in with his boyfriend, Dylan Michalchuk (played by John Bregar) and also known as Paige's older brother.
"I think they should [get married]," Ruggiero said. "I don't know if they have yet. I don't think they need marriage to define their relationship."
Honestly? The wedding would've been a blast.
"We have great chemistry," Jake concluded of his banter with Adamo. "We're like a one-two punch," Adamo chimed in, referencing the famous kiss the co-stars shared in season three, when Del Rossi attempted to make his bae jealous. Ahh, sweet nostalgia.
Related:'Degrassi' Reunion Show Coming to Netflix
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Photo: Walter McBride/WireImage
If you spent your youth pining after bad boys with guitars, then there's a good chance that you swooned over Degrassi: The Next Generation's Craig Manning.
Fans caught up with Craig in the 2009 TV movie Degrassi Goes Hollywood, and the musician returned to his old stomping grounds in Degrassi: Next Class' reunion episode, "#Throwback." Alas, it looks like Craig couldn't stay away — and I'm definitely not complaining about it.
Last time he was in town, Craig — never without his guitar — played at a show for the alumni. Now, according to TV Guide, the stepson of Joey Jeremiah (Pat Mastroianni) will be taking his talents to a judging panel in the season 4 episode "#FactsOnly." Craig will reportedly be acting as the special celebrity judge at a charity talent show, where Degrassi's best and brightest will no doubt be playing. It seems like every class at Degrassi has boasted their own band, so it's worth wondering if Maya (Olivia Scriven) will rejoin Grace (Nikki Gould) and Jonah (Ehren Kassam) to compete in the talent show following a cycle of depression that led to her overdosing on pills. Given Craig's own history with mental illness — he was diagnosed as bipolar during his time on the series — perhaps these two musicians can find some common ground.
Of course, anything other than Craig making another appearance on Degrassi: Next Class is pure speculation. What we do know about the upcoming season, however, sounds pretty promising. In addition to releasing a juicy trailer for season 4 that shows how everyone is hooking up and/or breaking up, the show promises to explore gender fluidity through the lens of Yael (Jamie Bloch).
You don't have to wait until the new season drops on Netflix on Friday, July 7 to see more of Craig. Degrassi also released a video of Epstein and Adamo Ruggiero, who plays Marco, reminiscing about their days walking the halls of Degrassi.
Check it out below, and make sure to add Degrassi: Next Class to your Netflix queue.
Canadian actor and singer
Jacob Lee Epstein
(1987-01-16) January 16, 1987 (age 34)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Jacob Lee Epstein (born January 16, 1987) is a Canadian actor and singer who played Craig Manning, a musician with bipolar disorder, on Degrassi: The Next Generation. He also played Will in the First National Tour of American Idiot and originated the role of Gerry Goffin in the Broadway production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.
Epstein was born in Toronto, Ontario. His mother, Kathy Kacer, is a Norma Fleck Award-winning writer of children's stories about the Holocaust, and his father, Ian Epstein (born 1955), is a lawyer. He has an older sister, Gabi, an actress and jazz singer. Epstein is Jewish and was raised in Conservative Judaism. Epstein stated in 2019, "I would consider myself spiritually Jewish rather than religiously Jewish. It was certainly a big part of my upbringing and certainly a big part of my identity."
Epstein made his professional stage debut in a Soulpepper Theatre Company production of Our Town at the Royal Alexandra Theatre before playing the Artful Dodger in Mirvish Productions' stage production of Oliver! After appearing on the TV show The Zack Files, he played Craig Manning on Degrassi: The Next Generation for five seasons and won the Gemini Award. The character of Craig became a musician on the show and had to cope with parent abuse and bipolar disorder. Epstein said, "At the time, mental illness was not really something anyone was talking about. There was a huge stigma attached — I had never seen [bipolar disorder] on TV, and certainly not in a teenager. I loved the opportunity to portray someone who was conflicted and not perfect..." Craig impregnated a girl named Manny who gets an abortion, and Epstein noted that those episodes were "initially banned" in the United States. Epstein indicated that he "got the chance to really flesh out this guy that felt like a darker extension of me."
He left Degrassi during the fifth season to attend the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal and made theater his new focus. Epstein said, "One of the things I love about theatre is how raw it is. There's no faking it… I really wanted to have a base in theatre, and that kind of opened up all these doors for me." Epstein returned to Degrassi for minor guest appearances in season 6-8. He replaced Kyle Riabko as Melchior Gabor in the First National Tour of Spring Awakening, officially beginning his run on July 7, 2009. Epstein commented on the show, "I think it really doesn't talk down to its audience. I think it portrays teen sexuality in a way that's real, in a way that's entertaining, and in a way that's just really connects with people. Spring Awakening really doesn't hold back, and I think people appreciate that."
Also in 2009, Epstein starred as CB (a.k.a. Charlie Brown) in Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, described as a "comedic deconstruction of the famous Peanuts characters." In this production, CB copes with the recent death of his beagle and discovers that he is in love with Beethoven (a.k.a. Schroeder). Theatre critic Richard Ouzounian wrote, "Jake Epstein is brilliant as CB, a bunch of nerve endings searching for a place to settle. Epstein is so beautifully open and honest that you go with him on every step of his journey."
In July 2011, Epstein played Billy's older brother in a Toronto production of Billy Elliot the Musical. He spoke about working with alternate leads, "The most unique part of this show is working with a new Billy every night. Every Billy is different. They each bring something interesting and specific to the role. I am a different older brother each night, depending on who's on..."
He played Will in Green Day's Tony-winning rock musical American Idiot during the 2011–2012 North American tour. Epstein said, "I always think of American Idiot as my generation's The Who's Tommy or Pink Floyd's The Wall.American Idiot was very much like that time in the world, right after Sept. 11th...It was like a time of not knowing what to feel and that's what spawned this show." In a 2013 interview, Epstein identified Will as the most challenging role he had ever played. He said, "I sat on a couch and never left the stage for the majority of the show. That experience was a whole lesson in pacing, in creating a whole world for yourself on stage, and in letting the experience you are having that night dictate your arc for the show."
Epstein made his Broadway debut in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark as the alternate for lead role Peter Parker/Spider-Man. He joined the company on December 4, 2012, and performed Saturday and Sunday matinees, with his first show taking place on December 8 at the Foxwoods Theatre. Epstein referred to the role as a "childhood fantasy come true." He played his final performance on August 12, 2013, to begin rehearsing for a new musical titled Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which opened on Broadway on January 12, 2014. This marked his second Broadway show in less than a year. The musical was based on Carole King's life, and Epstein portrayed her former husband Gerry Goffin. He noted that it was not easy playing the man who broke King's heart. Epstein said that "...it was tough, because Goffin was alive at the time. I was in touch with Carole King, who kept encouraging me, 'Do everything you can not to make him the villain.'" Beautiful had undergone major script changes and the version of Goffin that appeared in the final show was different from the part that Epstein had first auditioned for. Epstein said, "I'm trying to make his struggle clear, so people understand why he did the things he did. He's not just a villain. I hope people see it's more complicated than that." He remained with the cast until September 21, 2014.
Many of the characters Epstein portrayed were troubled types. He said in December 2013, "I'm a pretty upbeat person. I think I sometimes get cast as these brooding types because I bring light and joy, which hopefully makes them more likable."
Epstein played "geeky FBI computer nerd" Chuck Russink in the American TV show Designated Survivor (2016–2018). It was cancelled by ABC after two seasons, and he was no longer in the show when it was picked up and aired by Netflix for a third season.
In 2016, Epstein starred as a closeted gay man in the off-Broadway show Straight. He said of the script:
What resonated with me is how a straight person is just a person, but a gay person is a gay person—it's part of the title you give somebody...I thought the whole angle that the play takes about not a fear of coming out but a fear of definition, a fear of being labeled as a gay man, was an argument that's not really made in our sort of post-acceptance society. It's not about a guy who's afraid of coming out; it's about a guy who's not connected with quote-unquote "gay culture."
Critic Michael Glitz described Epstein's performance as "immensely appealing" and wrote that the three-member cast "elevated the show considerably with their charm and chemistry, led by Epstein's increasingly substantial stage chops."New York Times critic Andy Webster wrote, "Mr. Epstein ably embodies a vaguely passive-aggressive, noncommittal male archetype."
In July 2019, Epstein debuted his original one act autobiographical show Boy Falls From the Sky: Jake Epstein Live at Supermarket at the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival. The show in part detailed his experiences on Broadway with the title referring to his time performing in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Reviewer Wayne Leung described the show as "pitch-perfect." He wrote, "Epstein carries the solo show with a casual ease, as if he were regaling a group of friends over beers at a bar. He is affable, down-to-earth, and his narrative is sprinkled with gentle self-deprecating humour." Epstein said that his wife Vanessa Smythe got him "to realize that there's nothing like somebody with a microphone, telling a true story, something that's funny or horrific or whatever. There's so much power in that."
In December 2019, Epstein starred in the world premiere of the play Dear Jack, Dear Louise, inspired by playwright Ken Ludwig's parents. He played Army doctor Jack Ludwig, who exchanges letters with an aspiring Broadway actress during World War II. Epstein said, "One of the things that drew me to this project was that for my wife and I, the first five years of our relationship was long distance." He described Dear Jack, Dear Louise as "a wink to the original form of online dating." Critic Thomas Floyd wrote, "Epstein plays Jack with bookish likability and a nervous smile, even as the war erodes his optimism." Critic Em Skow wrote, "...Jack's character was the truest example in the show of Ken Ludwig's propensity to use humor in order to help us absorb serious moments, and Epstein's deft fluidity in finding the balance between those opposing dispositions was outstanding."
- ^ abBlank, Matt (December 31, 2013). "PLAYBILL.COM'S CUE & A: "Degrassi," Spider-Man and Beautiful Star Jake Epstein". playbill.com. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
- ^"Ian S. Epstein Lawyer Profile on Martindale.com".
- ^Post City Magazines | August 2007, Jake Epstein by Robin HeronArchived August 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- ^"Our Canadian Girl". Kathy Kacer. Retrieved June 26, 2006.
- ^"Kathy Kacer". Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators and Performers (CANSCAIP.org). Retrieved July 30, 2015. With short autobiography.
- ^Miller, Gerri (July–August 2007). "Jake Epstein". JVibe. 3 (4): 12–15.
- ^Document2Archived August 24, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
- ^Miller, Gerri (December 4, 2019). "Lifetime Welcomes Jew-ish Romantic Comedy 'Mistletoe & Menorahs'". Jewish Journal. Tribe Media Corp. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
- ^Ouzounian, Richard. "Former Degrassi star Jake Epstein moves into more exploratory realm". thestar.com. Retrieved March 23, 2018.
- ^Brody, Caitlin. "Degrassi: Next Class: Craig returns". EW.com. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
- ^"You're A Big Deal: Jake Epstein of Broadway's "Spiderman, Turn Off The Dark"". WBD Entertainment and Lifestyle Magazine. Retrieved January 24, 2016.
- ^Gioia, Michael (February 24, 2014). "The Leading Men: Jake Epstein and Jarrod Spector, Beautiful's Gerry Goffin and Barry Mann". playbill.com. Archived from the original on January 30, 2016. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
- ^Hetrick, Adam. "'Degrassi' Star Epstein to Succeed Riabko in Spring Awakening National Tour". playbill.com. Archived from the original on June 11, 2009. Retrieved June 2, 2009.
- ^"'Degrassi: The Next Generation's' Jake Epstein stars in 'Spring Awakening' in San Jose". The Mercury News. October 26, 2009. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
- ^Ouzounian, Richard. "Dog Sees God is as lovable as Snoopy". thestar.com. Retrieved March 27, 2018.
- ^Cameron, Kelly. "BWW Interviews: Jake Epstein talks Billy Elliot, Degrassi and Dream Roles". Broadway World. Wisdom Digital Media. Retrieved March 24, 2018.
- ^Jones, Kenneth (December 21, 2011). "American Idiot Tour, With Van Hughes, Joshua Kobak, Jake Epstein and More, Tests Wings in Upstate NY". playbill.com. Retrieved June 2, 2016.
- ^Ahearn, Victoria (January 1, 2012). "Toronto actor Jake Epstein of 'Degrassi' fame rocks hometown in 'American Idiot'". The Canadian Press.
- ^Gioia, Michael. ""Degrassi" Star Jake Epstein Will Make Broadway Debut in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark". Archived from the original on December 9, 2012.
- ^ abcdStevens, Beth (December 12, 2013). "Jake Epstein on Disappointing Degrassi Fans and Breaking Carole King's Heart in Beautiful". Broadway.com. Retrieved January 23, 2016.
- ^"Jake Epstein, Anika Larsen and Jarrod Spector Join 'Beautiful The Carole King Musical' Complete Cast Announced"Archived August 14, 2013, at the Wayback Machine playbill.com
- ^Hetrick, Adam."Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Starring Jessie Mueller as Music Icon, Opens on Broadway"Archived January 13, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, playbill.com, January 12, 2014.
- ^ abSumi, Glenn (July 3, 2019). "Fringe cover story: Jake Epstein talks Broadway, Degrassi and more in solo cabaret". NOW Magazine. NOW Communications Inc. Retrieved September 1, 2019.
- ^Broadway.com Staff. "Scott J. Campbell & Paul Anthony Stewart Join Cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway". Broadway.com. Broadway.com. Retrieved September 23, 2014.
- ^McClenahan, Jay (June 14, 2020). "6 Reasons Netflix Ruined Designated Survivor – Where The Heck Are Lyor, Mike, Leo, Trey, Chuck and Kendra?". So Many Shows. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
- ^ abLindsay, Benjamin. "'Straight' Actor Jake Epstein's 1 Secret to Doing Good Work". Backstage. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
- ^ abGlitz, Michael (March 2, 2017). "Theater: Jake Epstein Makes the Closet Sexy Again in 'Straight'". Huffington Post. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
- ^Webster, Andy (March 2, 2016). "Review: 'Straight' Glides Between Sexual Assumptions". New York Times. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
- ^SUMI, GLENN. "Fringe cover story: Jake Epstein talks Broadway, Degrassi and more in solo cabaret". Retrieved July 5, 2019.
- ^Leung, Wayne. "Boy Falls From the Sky: Jake Epstein Live at Supermarket (Past Future Productions) 2019 Toronto Fringe Review". Mooney on theatre. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
- ^ abFloyd, Thomas (December 9, 2019). "Ken Ludwig's 'Dear Jack, Dear Louise' is an affecting love letter to unlikely romance". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 26, 2019.
- ^ abTomchik, Benjamin. "BWW Interview: DEAR JACK, DEAR LOUISE's Jake Epstein Recreates Another World at Arena Stage". Broadway World. Wisdom Digital Media. Retrieved December 26, 2019.
- ^Skow, Em (December 6, 2019). "Arena Stage premiere of Ken Ludwig's 'Dear Jack, Dear Louise' reminds audiences of the incredible power of letter writing and human connection". DC Metro Theater Arts. Retrieved December 26, 2019.
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