BY: ELIZABETH DURAND STREISAND/ @MISSDURAND
It’s hard to imagine Broadway without Ben Platt on the stage – but on Sunday, November 19, the 24-year-old star takes his final bow for the role that made him famous. In honor of his legendary run in Dear Evan Hansen at the Music Box Theatre, Broadway Spin caught up with the Tony winner and his colleagues to hear their memories from seeing a Broadway show for the very first time.
Benj Pasek is one half of the Tony (and Oscar and Golden Globe)-winning songwriting team behind Dear Evan Hansen. Side note: If you missed his Tony Awards acceptance speech, Google it. Pasek didn’t hold back when telling us about his first memories of the Great White Way, which helped shape his career to come. “When I was 11-years-old, I saw the Lion King and Rent, two very different shows. That double whammy got me into theater in a deep way. I went with my family and remember The Lion King being magical. The animals were coming through the aisles. I thought the possibility of what theater can be is amazing,” he remembered. But that wasn’t the show that had the biggest impact.
“Then Rent was the show that changed my life. It had representation of people who I saw myself in, gay characters on stage,” he said. “To be a young kid who was questioning my identity and feeling alone and a little bit lost in the world, to see yourself portrayed on stage and a celebrated hero or a complicated story where you are loved where issues of love are addressed, it’s a really beautiful thing. It makes you think about how representation on stage is for every creed, color, religion and sexual orientation, so it’s a wonderful thing.”
Justin Paul is the other half of the Tony (and Oscar and Golden Globe)-winning songwriting team behind the award-winning musical. “Cats was the first Broadway show I ever saw. I was nine-years old and seeing it with my family. It really altered my perspective of Broadway shows because in Cats the actors come into the aisles,” he recalled. “I remember there was a woman nudging her head against my knee acting like a cat. I thought, ‘Broadway is amazing. People are singing and dancing and then they come into the aisles, touch and talk to you.’ It was a whole interactive experience.”
Laura Dreyfuss plays the beloved Zoe opposite Platt in DEH. (She also has a pretty charming Instagram account, which is a great place to get your fix of Laura Dreyfuss photos.) For Dreyfuss, her first time in the audience on Broadway was a truly life-changing experience. “When I saw Les Miserables it was my first Broadway show. I was 6-years-old and was immediately blown away. I knew that I wanted to do theater the rest of my life,” she revealed. “Actually, as soon as I found out about acting, which was pretty much ever since I could speak, I knew there was no other choice for me. The first time I was on stage I was 6-years-old and sang ‘Somewhere Out There’ from An American Tail for a talent show. My sister was at NYU at the time and studying acting. So she gave me acting classes.”
Mike Faist originated the role of Connor Murphy in DEH. Off-Broadway (where DEH started) holds a special place in his heart. “It wasn’t until I booked my first off-Broadway show, called Appropriate, that I had my first introduction to off-Broadway and plays,” he began. “I was so fortunate that Johanna Day played my mom. And here were are all these years later doing these wonderful things.” (ICYMI: Johanna Day was nominated for a 2017 Tony for the play Sweat.) “The Signature Theater is such a loving wonderful place that develops new works and is such a loving environment. That’s is really where I fell in love with the whole acting community.”
RACHEL BAY JONES
Rachel Bay Jones won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as Evan’s mom in DEH. It was her grandmother who first introduced her to the Great White Way. “My nana took me to see La Cage Aux Folles on Broadway when I was too young to appreciate it fully, but I loved it,” Jones mused. “Nothing could be more more fabulous and frightening and wonderful as that show, which is everything that New York theater is. I was about 12 and really starting to come into my own understanding of what everything was, so it was a big eye opener.”
Pretty sure Platt needs no introduction – and it turns out that his first Broadway show featured another modern icon. “Thoroughly Modern Millie with Sutton Foster,” he recalled. “It blew my mind. Then Gavin Creel took me around backstage afterward. Back then I was a theater fan and a big nerd. I listened to Broadway albums all growing up and it was the first time I came to New York to see a show live on Broadway.” Getting toured around by Creel was an eye-opening moment for Platt. “I thought, ‘I want to be you and I want to be here. This is what I want my life to be.’”
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