TALKING “SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD” WITH SHOSHANA BEAN

Shoshana BeanSHOSHANA BEAN HAS RETURNED TO HER THEATER ROOTS.

Since taking over for original star Idina Menzel in the Broadway production of Wicked, Bean has been delighting fans across the globe as an acclaimed independent artist. Her phenomenal four solo albums include last year’s exceptional Spectrum, which debuted at #1 on the iTunes and Billboard Jazz Charts. As a result, Bean headlined a sold-out concert at The Apollo, one of New York’s most emblematic musical institutions.

But one month before her Apollo show, Bean made a rare return to the New York stage as an actress (for the first time in 12 years!). From June 27-30, 2018, the vocal powerhouse starred in a revival of composer Jason Robert Brown’s first musical, Songs For A New World. Playing as part of New York City Center’s Encores! series, this revered production has been preserved in the form of a glorious new cast recording that’s available now from Ghostlight Records.

I spoke with Bean about Songs For A New World, her February concert residency in L.A., the upcoming all-female Jesus Christ Superstar concept album, her next solo record, memories of Wicked and much more.


ALEX NAGORSKI: Songs For A New World marked the first time you performed in a musical on a New York stage since Wicked in 2006. Why was this the perfect production with which to make your grand return?

SHOSHANA BEAN: Two reasons. First, this show has been with me, like most of us, for 20+ years. I first discovered it when I was right out of college and it was super impactful. This show has a lot of personal meaning for me. Second, Jason Robert Brown is a dear friend. He’s one of my favorite people to collaborate with and one of my favorite composers. It seemed like the perfect opportunity!

It was also a quick commitment. I think part of my resistance to coming back to the New York stage has been the tying down of it all – the lack of freedom and the lack of ability to simultaneously keep doing my own thing. This was a short commitment and music that I loved. Plus, Jason is both a human being and a composer that I would walk on hot coals for.

In your opinion, what is it about JRB’s work that has made him into such a contemporary musical theater legend?

His ability to be a classic writer while still being modern and contemporary is the first thing that grabbed me back in the day. It felt like singing pop music in the musical theater genre. I think the second and most important thing about his writing is his storytelling ability. He just makes it so easy! There’s no guess work and there’s no trying to spin something into gold. It’s just all there. It’s a full meal deal and it’s meaty and it’s good.

I’ve been singing “Stars And The Moon” for almost 20 years. When he first heard me singing it, he was like, “she’s 20 years too young.” In the decades since, the evolution of my relationship with that song just proves that there’s no end to what you can discover in his music. No matter how many times you’ve sung it, no matter how much you believe that you understand what story you’re telling, it just consistently evolves. That’s my favorite thing about his writing – the story he allows me to continue to tell.

Speaking of “Stars And The Moon,” this is arguably his most iconic song. Not only has it become a cabaret standard, it’s also been recorded by the likes of Audra McDonald, Betty Buckley and Sutton Foster. What do you think makes this such a standout number in both Songs For A New World and JRB’s catalog at large? And what was your creative process like to make your interpretation so unique? 

Songs For A New WorldWhether it’s in a relationship, in work or any decision you make in your life, there are questions of, “Am I making a decision that allows me to dream and see with my heart and spirit? Am I making a logical, smart decision based on illusion? Am I doing this based on what I think I’m supposed to do or what I think I want and need?” I think we all struggle with those decisions every day. “Am I making decisions for money or am I making decisions for my heart’s happiness? Am I making decisions for my parents or am I making decisions because of my authentic choices?”

Jason articulated these feelings in a very specific way. The song deals with a woman who chose a dream of wealth and celebrity that she thought would fulfill her, but then it ultimately didn’t. I think we all are looking at our choices in different ways every day. We’re analyzing selling out versus “When I get to the end of my days, I’m going to look back and know that I may have done things the harder and more impoverished ways, but god I don’t regret it! I wouldn’t change a thing. I know I didn’t miss out. I wrung out every drop of the juice that I had in this life.” I think because of that, the songs speaks to everyone, no matter what age.

The creative process was the past 20 years of continuing to get to know and sing this song. For me, the creative process is always just living life. The more you live, the more experience you bring to the table. The way you communicate becomes more honest, vulnerable and authentic.

With Jason’s music, every time I sing it, I hear and discover something new. When it comes to his music, the lyrics do the work for you. Therefore, my goal always is to show up as vulnerable and available as possible, and as connected to the lyrics and to the audience as possible. The purest, most powerful access to his stuff is when you’re willing to be completely transparent. That’s really the only requirement with his writing – to show up like a human and bare your soul and tell the story.

Songs For A New World played a very limited run. What was it like preserving this short experience in the studio when recording the album for Ghostlight Records?

Not enough time! It was all very much under the gun as far as time was concerned, so we had to rush through it. We had barely a two-week process together! It wasn’t until that Saturday, which were the last shows of that run, when we are all like, “Oh, now we’re finally getting into our groove.”

Coming back to record was like, “Yay, we get to sink our teeth in again!” But it’s never enough time. I’ll reiterate that Jason’s music is so complex. Also, he’ll be the first to say, “I wrote this when I was 18 years old, I didn’t know how to write in a woman’s comfortable place,” and I’d be like, “Why would you write ‘The Flagmaker, 1775’ in this key? It’s a nightmare!” He’d just laugh and say, “I was young!”

I think we just all could have used more time together to enjoy the process. Anytime you’re together with a magical group of people – and I do think this cast had a magical vibe and blend – it just always feels too short.

Do you have any desire to return to Broadway? If so, what type of show and/or role would be most enticing to you?

That varies. I think the bottom line is that it’s just a moment-by-moment decision. I actually just went to New York to do a first reading of a beautiful new piece by Harvey Fierstein and Alan Menken. The character is really different for me. It’s a part that you probably would be surprised by. But this piece literally got inside my heart and spoke to me so clearly. So it really is a case-by-case basis! This role may have come to me at another time in my life and I might have been like, “This just doesn’t feel right.”

I’m realizing that as we are living, breathing, evolving creatures, things change. There are pieces that used to really get under my skin and I’d be like, “oh my god, I’d give anything to do this!” Then you come back to them later and you’re like, “I don’t feel that I have anything to bring to this anymore.” I’m so grateful to have reached a point where I only do things that light my heart up. The people that I work with and the audiences deserve that. So I make decisions based on that, if that makes sense.

Every Tuesday in February, you’re performing your show, “Standards at the Standard” in West Hollywood. What can your fans expect from this series of intimate concerts?

Shoshana BeanMostly that it’s all improv and on-the-fly! It’s not the same set every week. Basically, I will choose songs, give my band the key and we will show up and see what happens. I’ve always been so intent on making sure everything is prepared and perfect. But what I’ve realized and learned, especially in the past year or so, is that some of the most beautiful things happen in the unexpected space. I wanted to create a safe environment to let that happen. I think it’s also exciting for an audience to know that we don’t know what’s happening and to watch what comes out of that. Some of the shows might be complete train wrecks but some of them could be beautiful! I have the greatest musicians who I can have those kinds of musical conversations with.

By “standards,” we mean the classic American songbook – but I think that songbook is expanding as time goes by. There will be Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson songs that will become standards. These will be the songs that our kids are singing and looking back on as part of the classic songbook. I’m expanding the definition of “standard” to include artists like The Beatles and Bob Dylan. These are now the new classics.

In case fans can’t come see you in Los Angeles, where can they catch you next? Do you have any further tour plans for 2019?

We’re working on a couple of cities. I’ll probably keep doing spot dates but I’ve got to start writing the next record, so I’m trying to keep myself home as much as possible.

You’re also currently finishing up working on the all-female Jesus Christ Superstar concept album, which is slated to be released in June. What inspired you and Morgan James to put this project together?

I cannot take any credit. This was all Morgan. I had nothing to do with it except for to say yes. She’s so creative. She put together an incredible cast and it’s a great idea. I’m super excited about it! Morgan was right on the money with this one.

When she initially had the idea, the timing was really right because the tide was starting to turn as far as what women will and won’t take anymore as far as pay, opportunity or treatment. This was the perfect vehicle to be empowered with and to bring people together in the way that she – and us all as a cast –did. It was such a powerful thing and I’m so glad that it’s being preserved for all time on this recording.

To hear women sing this stuff is so amazing. We didn’t change any keys and we didn’t alter it to suit a woman’s voice by any means. We had to limbo around what’s already written, which was super challenging.

On this recording, Cynthia Erivo is singing the part of Mary Magdalene. You two have collaborated many times recently, including on your viral “I Did Something Bad” cover and your co-headling holiday concert at the Apollo. Why do you think you two work so well together and do you have any other upcoming projects together?

A myriad of reasons! She challenges me to raise the bar all the time in every way. She shows me myself knowingly and unknowingly. She has no problem being like, “You’re being crazy!” She feels me, supports me and makes me feel better about myself. We have a very special connection on soul and spiritual levels. For example, we never discuss what we’re wearing. When we show up to do press or whatever else together, we’re always in a similar color scheme or in some kind of similar outfit. We are so connected.

My favorite thing about us singing together is that most people cannot tell who’s singing what part. Sometimes she’ll even look at me and be like, “Who was top and who was on bottom?” We love how well our voices blend and I think that’s because we listen in the same way. We’re both musical in a very similar way and we are open to connect with each other on stage. There are a lot of people who you can sing and sound good with, but to actually look at the person you’re on stage with and know that you’re being seen as you are seeing them is a rare gift. That’s one of the great things that we are able to do together.

And yes, we have plenty of things coming down the pike together!

Last year, you released your album, Spectrum. It seems that you’ve really refined your identity as a solo artist by creating a perfect blend of your musical theater roots and your passion for jazz and soul music. How did you marry these influences to create such a simultaneously distinctive and timeless sound?

Shoshana BeanIt wasn’t easy! I won’t lie, it was a long and deductive process. I was looking to make sure I could please everybody, which is a very tall task. People have discovered me in so many ways and all of those people want more of that specific thing. So people who know me because of Postmodern Jukebox are like “do more with them” and people who found me because of Broadway are like, “do more musical theater!”

It just always feels like this tug of war, as if I’m straddling all these fences and trying to please all these people. But at the same time, I’m trying to stay authentic to what my artistic heart wants to do, what I want to say and where I want to go next. It’s a challenge! Initially, this project came out of the desire to please everyone, and then, whittling down what would be inauthentic. A full jazz album wouldn’t fly because I’m not a jazz artist. A full Broadway album wouldn’t fly because I have so much more to say than just that. So we just took the ingredients from all of these things and made our own recipe of chili, you know what I mean? It was a really terrifying process to go outside my comfort zone and ask those questions.

What are your plans for a Spectrum follow-up?

I’m starting to work on the writing. I start my first writing session tonight, actually! We never know if the songs that we’re writing right now are actually going to make it on the album. I haven’t written a song since “Remember The Day,” which was like a year and a half ago, so I’m excited to see what happens.

You’ve also been churning out many covers lately, like “In My Blood,” “Shallow,” “This Is Me” and “Mine Again”. How do you decide what songs to put your own spin on and do you have plans to eventually release a full covers album?

No, not anymore. I feel like Spectrum was largely a covers album. There are certain songs that really speak to me that make me feel like, “Oh, this belongs on my album because I wish I would have written it” or whatever. I don’t intend to really do that anymore. It doesn’t fulfill me in the way that my own stuff does. And if the numbers show, as far as Spectrum was concerned, they weren’t the most popular or favorite songs either. So I think it really has to be something special for me to now feel like, “Oh yeah, this is going on my record because it feels like I wanted to say this.”

On Friday, the Wicked cast recording will be rereleased to celebrate the musical’s 15thanniversary. Looking back, how did it feel the first time you stepped out on stage as Elphaba? And did you know at the time that Wicked would become such a long-lasting global blockbuster?

Shoshana BeanWe knew it was a hit at that point but I don’t think I had thought that far ahead. I certainly couldn’t have predicted this. Right when I took over was when YouTube started to happen and social media like MySpace was just ramping up. I think the accessibility that allowed is part of the show’s wild success. Before with Broadway shows, if you couldn’t watch performances on David Letterman or Rosie O’Donnell or if you couldn’t fly to New York or see the national tour or buy the soundtrack, you were shit out of luck. There wasn’t a way to access or be knowledgeable about what was going on. YouTube and social media completely changed that and Wicked was right at that breaking point. I largely credit that timing with what I’ve been able to do with my solo career and I largely credit that timing with how massive that show got. But no is the short answer. I don’t think anyone could have predicted how big it became.

Let’s just say that the first time I went out was unexpected because I was standing by for Idina Menzel. I had a planned week to go on for the first time because she was leaving to film Enchanted. A couple days before that was supposed to happen, she went out sick. Of course, in that instance, you don’t get a ton of warning and I was on! I think I just felt adrenaline, excitement, fear and a complete awareness of the moment. You can’t step one inch to the left incorrectly or someone could get hurt in that show. There’s really an importance for exactness so it takes you out of thinking about anything else. So, I think it was probably just a feeling of terror.

Also, can you imagine standing by for Idina Menzel and all those people came to see her and they find out that someone they never heard of is going on instead? They’d think, “This is the worst day of my life!” At that point, she was down to her final months in the show and people were flying in from all over the world to make sure they saw her in it. There was certainly an element of fear that I was going to piss these people off and disappoint them.

That must have been so scary!

Oh yeah, the pressure was insane! I had no previous reputation, so there was nobody to let down – except for, obviously, the people wanting to see Idina.

I think that same idea of expectation was what caused the fear I felt when I showed up for Songs For A New World. When I got on stage, I was like, “Holy shit, why am I wracked with fear and anxiety?” And it was only then that I realized I haven’t been on a New York stage in 12 years, like you mentioned in your first question.

I’ve been doing my own thing for so long and what I realized is I’ve created a situation where there’s no one to compare me to. But theater is different. When you get on stage, it feels like there’s some kind of expectation or that there are constraints or boundaries. This was dipping my toe back in, putting myself in the hot seat and being able to be judged by however many seats are in that house. It’s a bigger stage than what I’m doing on my own and it’s scarier, for sure.

Both personally and professionally, what are some of your biggest goals and dreams for 2019?

My personal goals include what I say yes to and how I take care of myself and my boundaries.

Professionally, my biggest goal is getting this next album written! I want this to be a completely new and deep level of songwriting for me. I really want it to be the best thing that I’ve done up to this point. I’d love to maybe even get it recorded, depending on how quickly I can do this writing process. You kind of know when you’ve got the album – when everything you’ve written is cohesive and makes sense and you’re saying the things that you want to say. In a perfect world, I would love to have the next album recorded by the end of this year.

I’m really enjoying what Spectrum opened up for me in terms of opportunities and experiences. I want to keep writing that way, stay in that lane and keep making records like that.

If you were running for President in 2020, what would your campaign slogan be?

United We Stand!

Originally published on PopBytes

TALKING “BE MORE CHILL” WITH STAR WILL ROLAND

Be More ChillWHAT IF YOU COULD TAKE A PILL THAT GAVE YOU WHAT YOU WANTED MOST IN LIFE?

This is the question at the heart of Be More Chill, a hotly anticipated musical with music and lyrics by Joe Iconis that will debut at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre in February. The show stars Dear Evan Hansen alumnus Will Roland as Jeremy, a social outcast whose dreams of high school popularity start coming true after he takes a pill called a SQUIP (a “super quantum unit intel processor”), which implants a computer into his brain to dictate what he says and does.

The regional Be More Chill world premiere cast recording (released in 2015) has already amassed over 200 million streams to become of the most streamed cast albums of all time. In 2017, the show’s status as a viral sensation prior to its inaugural Broadway bow had Tumblr rank it as the #2 most talked-about musical on its platform (only behind Hamilton).

Though Roland was not part of the world premiere cast, he took on the central role of Jeremy this past summer when Be More Chill played its acclaimed Off-Broadway run. During that production’s rehearsal process, Iconis wrote “Loser Geek Whatever,” a brand new anthem to close out the first act. Now, Ghostlight Records has released the breakout showstopper as the musical’s lead single in advance of its Broadway arrival.

To celebrate the single’s release, I spoke with Roland about bringing Be More Chill to Broadway, what makes “Loser Geek Whatever” such a standout number, his own high school experience, his journey with Dear Evan Hansen and much more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: Why was Be More Chill the perfect project for you following the blockbuster success of Dear Evan Hansen?

WILL ROLAND: There is a lot about Be More Chill that’s really appealing to me personally. It’s another story about a young person. I’m very attracted to those stories because I think young people are very interesting in their lives. Also, I have a very long relationship with a lot of the creative team, especially Joe Iconis. In addition to all that, I have always loved sci-fi, fantasy, and anything that can push boundaries. I love magical realism. Anything outside of our normal world is very appealing to me as an artist. So the opportunity to do a piece that does all those things and to be the leading man in it was beyond exciting. It was truly the perfect thing that fell into my lap at the perfect moment!

What makes “Loser Geek Whatever” the perfect song to introduce people to this story and its music?

“Loser Geek Whatever” gives you a great idea of who our leading man is and what he’s struggling with during the course of our story. It is a new song that was written during the Off-Broadway run, so I’m very excited to say that I’m the only person who’s performed it onstage. It’s very emblematic of what the show sounds like. It has a sort of retro-futurist pop/punk sound, but it also has really thoughtful lyrics. I think it’s a great representation of what our show is about.

This show has a really enormous fan base and whenever I talk about “Loser Geek Whatever,” I talk about how the song is not only about Jeremy, but it’s also about me – Will Roland, the actor. It’s also about all of these incredible young people who have internet-ed Be More Chill into its success. It’s about a lot of things at once and so I’m really excited we got to release that single in advance of the Broadway run!

Be More ChillHow do you think the addition of this song as the Act One closer enhances the show?

One of the things that was tricky about this show was that it left us asking a few questions. One of these was, “why is Jeremy making the decisions that he’s making?” We were very eager to peek inside his head. What we’ve seen so far in the show are a lot of moments where he’s been bullied and dunked on by the world – but they’re all, for the most part, kind of comical and they all sort of happen to him. So I think one of the things that’s really valuable about this song is that it gives us a look inside his head. We learn that all of these things that we see happening to him are not just little occurrences. They’re actually making him feel profoundly lonely and dissatisfied.

I talk a lot about how the word “bully” is kind of reductive. It’s a word that we use to describe “things that happen to kids.” But the bullying that occurs to Jeremy has a real effect on him and he’s really profoundly unhappy. This song is where we get to watch him make the decision to do something that he doesn’t like, which is to leave behind his one real friend in order to hopefully make a change in his life.

The “Loser Geek Whatever” single also includes instrumental and acoustic versions of the track. What was it like to peel back the layers of such a big song and record such an intimate rendition?

The release of the instrumental version to me is very funny because it’s exactly what I was singing along to in the studio – so that’s a great gift to our karaoke enthusiasts out there! The acoustic version was a really fun thing to get to put together. It was just Joe Iconis and I at the piano. We played around with a bunch of different vocalisms and textures. In the end, we decided to sing it a whole step higher than it is in the show and on the other recording.

This song is very powerful. It’s very huge and it feels like a Van Halen song. But for the acoustic version, we wanted to really point out the lyrics and point out the longing and trouble that’s present in there. We wanted to strip away a lot of the artifice and the yelling. I do a lot of yelling in this song! It was really hard to pull that back and make it into something that’s just a little bit more stripped-down, bare bones and vulnerable.

As a performer, what are the most rewarding and challenging parts of tackling Joe Iconis’ score? 

The best thing about the score is that it is the most intelligent and literate lyrics that I’ve ever been handed in my whole life! I’m a musical theater performer who believes it is all about the lyrics. I don’t go in for big vocal fireworks and lots of riffing and things like that. Joe’s writing is musically very interesting and very challenging – but it’s really about these incredible lyrics that he’s writing.

In terms of the score and the musical elements of it, it’s definitely a challenge for me. I spend a lot of time hydrating and sleeping. I’m not talking during the day because it really is a marathon in terms of styles, range and volume. I’m doing a lot of really gentle falsetto-y stuff during the show. So if I’m out drinking and partying, that’s going to be the first thing that I won’t have at the matinee the next day. I’m very conscious of preservation in that way.

The other thing that’s so fun about Joe’s music is that it switches grooves so often. The show has a unifying sound but it definitely doesn’t all sound the same. There are a variety of styles that I think are really honestly and truthfully represented.

Be More Chill

What are some of the biggest differences between the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions?

We restructured the second act when we were in rehearsals Off-Broadway. We reordered it so that the sequence of events was more exciting for audience members. There has also been a real focus on making sure that the audience understands that all of the characters on stage are having a similar struggle to what we watch Jeremy having very articulately in the rest of the show. Both for Off-Broadway and for Broadway, we’re giving moments to everyone in the company so that you understand that all of the young people and the father–all of the people in the show–are having their own tiny Be More Chill off in the wings while we’re watching Jeremy’s story on stage. That’s one of the big focuses.

We’ve also been talking a lot about how the role of artificial intelligence and computers has really increased in our lives, especially in the years since this show was originally written. We wanted to make sure that our show had a point of view about what those machines can do and are doing in our world, and what is our responsibility as the people who create and control them.

When the show begins, Jeremy is an underdog at his New Jersey high school. When you were growing up, was the hierarchal structure of your high school as rigid as it is in Be More Chill? If so, how did that inform your understanding of your character?

Well, I was very lucky. I went to a high school that was very small and it had a lot of ways of valuing a lot of people. I was very involved in theater starting very early on, from sixth grade until I graduated. It was the kind of school where everybody went to the play. So I think the fact that I was on stage playing the romantic lead in a show changed the way that people thought about me. I’m very lucky to say that I didn’t have a super hard time in high school.

It also was this sort of tricky thing where I felt very confident and sometimes was not entirely kind to my classmates. You could say I was something of a bully. And that was something I had to learn to grow out of, which I did thankfully! I’m lucky to say that a lot of what I’m doing as Jeremy is me drawing from experiences that I saw among my friends and among my classmates and then internalizing them with some of my own experiences. But I’m happy to say that I had a much easier time than Jeremy’s having in high school.

Be More ChillJeremy’s journey from being bullied to becoming the bully to landing on and accepting his authentic self is quite a vast character arc. Why do you think his is such an important story to tell?

I think that our notions of what leads look like in musicals these days, or in all forms of art, is changing. I think a lot about how those kids on Stranger Things are like the heroes of America at this moment. There are a lot of “losers,” “geeks” and whatever rapidly permeating the mainstream of our culture. They’re no longer relegated to, “the FBI agent hands the case to the computer nerd and he puts it in the machine and it spits out a photo.” I feel like we’re seeing more diversity of body types and ages and all sorts of stuff.

So in terms of Jeremy’s journey, I think it’s the kind of story that we get to tell when we allow more diverse stories onto the stage. We’ve always loved underdogs on stage and in literature. But to watch this guy’s life get super-charged, or upgraded as we say in the show, is the beauty of sci-fi. The beauty of sci-fi is that we say, “What would happen if we have this blah blah blah that we don’t have in the world?” This is one version of how one kid would use it.

If we were to pop this SQUIP into the head of any other musical theater character, we’d get a totally different tale. That’s the beauty of the genre. I think the success of our show comes from the idea that we get to see someone do something where they step entirely outside of themselves at the drop of a hat.

Be More ChillIs there a primary takeaway you’re hoping audiences have after seeing the show?

The finale of our show is a song called “Voices in My Head” and it is about both literal and figurative voices that one experiences – whether those are a super computer in your brain, actual voices in your head, voices of actual people in your life or voices of things like doubt or your conscience. Both the song and the show are about how our lives are filled with voices, people and urges telling us what to do and what to think. Those never really quite go away. But hopefully we can listen to the good voices within ourselves and use them to cope. It’s more a show about learning to deal with the world than it is about fixing the problems in your life. You’re never going to fix them and they aren’t going to go away! They just get easier to deal with. I think that’s a very realistic message for 2018 wrapped up in a very fantastical show.

How influential was Ned Vizzini’s novel during your creative process? How does the show expand on its source material?

I read the novel, as did a lot of our cast and creative team, leading up to the process. I would say that on the whole, our show takes a brighter and more fantastical view of the world than the novel does. But what the novel affords us is this very interesting question, which is, “what if happiness came in a pill?” I think that when the late, great Ned Vizzini was writing it, he was very specifically commenting on his experiences taking Adderall, Ritalin and various drugs that are prescribed to teenagers.

Though those questions and notions are in there, I think our show is more about the broader question of technology in our lives. There are things that Ned couldn’t necessarily have predicted when the book came out in 2004 – like map surveillance by Google and Amazon, etc. Our show makes the world a little bit larger. The novel is great and I love reading it, but it sort of doesn’t have an ending. Meanwhile, our show has this big, spectacular world-threatening climax that is entirely the invention of our stage adapters. It’s a lot of fun!

Be More ChillSince a world premiere cast recording of the show from 2015 already exists, do you feel a sense of pressure to remain faithful to Will Connolly’s interpretation of Jeremy? Or do you feel freedom to discover the character on your own?

I definitely feel like once I learned that I would be playing this role, I very much stopped listening to the cast recording so that I could feel that the choices I was making were my own. I returned immediately to the text and pretended as if there were no cast recording. But I also had already listened to that cast recording many, many times because I was an original Be More Chill fan! And so, there are many elements of Will’s performance that I just couldn’t help but incorporate into my own. Even if I were endeavoring to make it different and make it mine, it’s just the way that theater works. It’s inherent in the same way that if I went and played Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast next week, I would be paying certain homage to Jerry Orbach – even if it had been years since I really observed that specific performance. These things imprint on us! So it’s a little bit of both.

Even before the show has officially opened, you’re already getting Tony Awards buzz. Does that impact your creative process at all? What would that kind of recognition mean to you?

I would love for Be More Chill and for everyone in it to win every Tony Award possible! I think that would be the greatest thing ever. But I also know that these awards are a very challenging thing for us to incorporate into our process and let into our world. Though we obviously are going to be campaigning hard and hoping that we clean up, at the same time, we have a job to do and we can’t let little gold statues affect that.

Dear Evan Hansen is currently celebrating two years on Broadway. Looking back, how would you sum up the experience of being such an integral part of the show all the way from its regional to Off-Broadway to eventually Broadway productions?

Dear Evan Hansen was an incredible experience in my life. I spent just about four years working on the show between readings, workshops, out of town, Off-Broadway and Broadway. It taught me an incredible amount about our industry and producing. We had a really spectacular team. That show continues to have a really spectacular team from onstage to the creative team, the producing team, the marketing team, all that stuff. I really learned a lot by getting to watch this show have its meteoric rise.

I also learned a lot about what is important in the development of a show. When I started out, the first draft that we read was like three hours long and it was actually very satirical. It was definitely very heartfelt but there was a lot of it that was laughing at us and the way that we’re addicted to the internet. As the show’s development went on, it became clear that we wanted to take a more honest and earnest look at that aspect of our lives.

We also learned that my character, Jared, remained the voice of skepticism as all this ridiculous stuff started to happen. That had a huge effect on the shape of my role. It was less time spent torturing Evan. I actually had a song that was just six minutes of torturing Evan at the beginning of the show that got cut. Jared became the traditional Shakespearean clown in that he looks at the audience or at Evan, and says, “This is ridiculous! What the hell is going on here?” And in the end, he also calls Evan out on his world before it all falls apart. So it was fascinating to get to go on that ride and inhabit all of those roles over so many years through so many drafts and incarnations. It was so great to watch those writers and that creative team decide what they wanted the show to be.

There are film versions of both Dear Evan Hansen and Be More Chill currently in development.

Hollywood is coming for all my jobs!

Aside from yourself, who would you like to see play your characters in each of these movies?

I hadn’t even thought of that! I hadn’t thought to dream cast the roles. I do think that any of those Stranger Things kids would be excellent in Be More Chill. In terms of Dear Evan Hansen, I don’t know! I haven’t thought too much about it. I would love to make a cameo as Jared’s dad. That would be very fun. I could just yell upstairs to him while he’s up there with Evan. I think that would be a delightful moment that we’d all enjoy at the cinema.

Congratulations on your recent engagement! How’s juggling wedding planning with opening a new Broadway musical going?

Thank you so much! It’s very, very cool. If we’re being honest, wedding planning is going on the back burner a little bit. I have a little sister who’s also engaged and she’s going to be getting married in the fall. So that’s going to happen first. Our wedding will probably be some point after I leave Be More Chill. But we’re definitely checking out venues and thinking about invitations and the guest list and things like that. It’s insane! It’s the craziest process in the world. It’s an industry designed to confound people and I think it’s meant to test their love. I think it’s meant to be like, “You sure you want to do this? It’s challenging!” But we’re having a lot of fun with it. We’ve been together for a long time and she’s very much a part of this community.

What are some of your musical theater dream roles?

Oh man! I always love to say for this question that my musical theater dream role hasn’t been written yet. But the truth is there are a few I love. One of my favorite musicals ever is 1776 and I would love to play John Adams. I’ve been talking for a long time about how in the year 2026, it’ll be 250 years since the founding of our country and I’m sure that there will be some high-profile Broadway revival of 1776. I would be perfectly appropriate to play John Adams at that point in my life!

Thanks so much, Will! It was so great to chat with you and I cannot wait to see Be More Chill. Is there anything else you’d like to add that we didn’t discuss?

Thank you, Alex! It’s truly been a pleasure. We’ve got the 11thAnnual Joe Iconis Christmas Spectacular coming up from December 14-16. It’s totally sold out but people should try and come anyway! It’s totally raucous and irreverent Christmas lunacy. It’s the longest show you’ll ever see at 54 Below. It’s a real, full-fledged book musical so you’ll really get your money’s worth! It’s very, very fun.


CLICK HERE to download or stream “Loser Geek Whatever.” And CLICK HERE to purchase tickets for Be More Chill, coming to Broadway in February 2019!

Originally published on PopBytes