Broadway Star to Boi Wunder: Vincent Jamal Hooper is Ready to Reinvent Himself

The actor talks about playing Simba in Broadway’s 'The Lion King' and his upcoming debut pop/R&B album.

In a stairwell of the building where ‘The Lion King” has been playing on Broadway since 1997, the show's stars live forever. 

Vincent Jamal Hooper is one of the most recent additions to those sacred halls and walks through them in awe. “It has headshots of everyone who’s ever been in the Broadway company,” Hooper tells BET. “You go up that stairwell, and you’re surrounded by so many names that you know and faces that you recognize.” 

In the almost three decades since the Tony Award-winning show premiered in the Minskoff theater in 1997, several music legends have passed through those halls: Samuel E. Wright, Bradley Gibson, and Heather Headley. And now Hooper, who joined the cast as Simba in late 2023. 

“It’s kind of an overwhelming feeling to be like, ‘oh, I’m a part of that legacy. I’m in this canon now.’” Hooper smiles, “One day someone will be walking through this building and see my headshot when they’re up here. Hopefully, it’ll spark something in them as well as far as what’s possible.” 

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Born and raised in Texas, Hooper stumbled into the theater world as a teenager. “You enjoy the thing then you figure out people think I’m good at this. Then you figure out, I think I’m good at this. And you start to find the ways it fills you up and you establish a work ethic in it. It really happened so organically.” 

His first show was a regional production of Ragtime. “I was like oh wait, this is a job? People actually get paid to do this?” The theater was “just a whole different way of working and operating that really kind of cracked my world open.” 

He went to school briefly before dropping out to pursue professional roles. “Most of my training came from doing things on the job ask asking questions of the people who are far more experienced than I was,” he reflects. And it worked, as he has a handful of television and theater credits including the Off-Broadway premiere of “White Girl in Danger” and performing alongside Lin Manuel Miranda in the Puerto Rico production of “Hamilton.”

Earlier this year, Hooper introduced the world to Boi Wunder, an alter ego for his pop and R&B imaginings. It’s “my own music, my own voice,” he says. “I’ve sat on these songs for years. Part of that is procrastination. Part of that is imposter syndrome.” 

Making a bridge between Broadway and R&B can be tricky, but Boi Wunder is eager to override any assumptions about what a Broadway star’s contemporary album might look like. 

“The reality of it is there’s something of an assumption that comes when you have a background in Broadway. If you’re trying to make pop music, it’s going to be a little corny, a little kitschy, a stylistic rub there.” He’s ready to show “that no, we can actually make music that is competitive in a real way and impactful and that resonates. The notion of what I do for a living right now doesn’t need to be a summation of who I am as an artist. I’m on Broadway, yes, but there’s more to it than just that.” 

So, readjust your expectations at the door. 

“If you see my name on a cast album,” he concludes. “That’s over here. It’s not even remotely trying to be that. There are no covers of theater songs. There’s not going to be any theater songs. We’re doing something totally different, intentionally.”

 His latest song, “MUSE,” is a romantic groove of a pop song inspired by an Allen Stone concert he attended in Melbourne, Australia.

 “I love Allen Stone,” Boi Wunder shares. “When I went to his concert in Australia with my girlfriend, there was a moment where he singled out his wife in the audience in the balcony. And he sang an entire song directly to her. This room of thousands immediately became a concert between two people. I imagined what that must feel like, to cut through this noise.” 

That connection colors “the place this song is born out of.” 

And this is just the beginning. 

Boi Wunder’s full album, nine original songs, drops this fall, and he’ll release one single a month until its release. As a fully independent artist, he’s “currently fundraising to make everything is paid for” and “make a music video and hire dancers. We’ve got some people who’ve agreed to collaborate with me but I want to make sure they’re appropriately compensated.” 

This world’s just opening up for Boi Wunder.

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