CMU alums bring ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ musical message to Heinz Hall
Two Carnegie Mellon University alums are starring in the cast of the first national tour of the popular contemporary Broadway musical, “Dear Evan Hansen.”
Ben Levi Ross, who studied musical theater at CMU, portrays the title role of troubled teen Evan Hansen in the Tony Award-winning musical. Christiane Noll, who earned her BFA in music from Carnegie Mellon, plays one of the mothers, Cynthia Murphy, opposite Aaron Lazar as her husband, Larry Murphy.
The cast also features Jessica Phillips as Heidi Hansen, Jared Goldsmith as Jared Kleinman, Phoebe Koyabe as Alana Beck, Marrick Smith as Connor Murphy and Maggie McKenna as Zoe Murphy.
The tour stops in Pittsburgh for seven performances from May 21-26 at Heinz Hall as part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh season. The show is sold out, and the only chance at getting tickets for this production is through the Trust’s digital lottery.
Ross, who is from Los Angeles, Calif., made his Broadway debut in “Dear Evan Hansen” in the fall as an understudy for Connor, Jared and Evan at The Music Box Theatre. He said the show — which focuses on a high school student with a social anxiety disorder who takes extreme measures to connect with his peers — delivers an important message to theatergoers.
“I think right now, more than ever, we’re in need as a society for people to listen to a story that’s message is to just listen to others,” he said when the musical launched in Denver. “With all this talk and all this chatter online, everywhere, in politics, the media, if we just take a second and listen to the person sitting across from us, it can make all the difference — and I think that’s the most important part of this story.”
“Dear Evan Hansen,” written by Steven Levenson with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, deals with parental loss and teen suicide and how feelings of need for acceptance can ultimately lead to bad decisions.
However, the show is not all gloom, doom and sadness, says Noll; in fact, it has uplifting moments of laughter and joy, even from its very start.
“In the first three minutes of the show, you’re falling in love with Evan,” she says. “It’s brilliantly conceived and structured.”
Still, the goal of the cast is to create a conversation about things that matter.
Audiences are moved. “Some of us were noticing, in most of the theaters we’ve played, that people are lingering a lot after the show in an over-arching trend, to allow what has happened to hit them,” the actor says.
“We are finding that humor in every market is a little different, and we don’t take for granted that every city is profoundly moved by this show — and that has been amazing.”
Noll, who is from Essex County, N.J., says she often performed in Pittsburgh while attending college, acting in Civic Light Opera productions and singing with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in performances at the Benedum Center and Heinz Hall.
“One of my first jobs in the city was delivering singing telegrams for Eastern Onion,” she says with a laugh.
She has toured with productions of “City of Angels” and “Miss Saigon” and made her first Broadway appearance as Emma in 1997 in the original Broadway production of Frank Wildhorn’s “Jekyll & Hyde.” She was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance as Mother in the 2009 revival of “Ragtime” and made her Carnegie Hall debut with the New York Pops orchestra.
At the 71st Tony Awards, “Dear Evan Hansen” was nominated for nine awards, winning six, including Best Musical, Best Score, Best Actor in a Musical for Ben Platt and Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Rachel Bay Jones.
In addition to the touring and Broadway productions, “Dear Evan Hansen” launched its first international production in Toronto in March 2019. Previews for the musical’s London debut will begin at the Noel Coward Theatre in the West End in October, with an official opening scheduled for Nov. 19.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.