Q&A with the stars of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ ahead of the Philadelphia run

Two years after its arrival was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the critically acclaimed play “Dear Evan Hansen” is coming to Philadelphia for the first time as part of its North American tour.

The musical, which debuted in 2016, follows a lonely teenager, Evan Hansen, who, based on fate and a letter that was never meant to be read, finally has a chance to fit in as long as he’s willing to live . a lie. It has won six Tony Awards, and the original Broadway cast recording won the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. The show was made into a movie in 2021.

In Philadelphia, in will be on stage Tuesday, August 16 through Sunday, August 28 at the Forrest Theatre.


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“Dear Evan Hansen” was written by Tony Award winner Steven Levenson (“Fosse/Verdon”), directed by four-time Tony nominee Michael Greif (“Rent,” “Next to Normal”) and scored by Grammy, Tony and Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman”).

An Ardmore native, Pasek wrote the play based on his own experiences attending Friends’ Central School in Lower Merion.

Onstage mother-son duo Coleen Sexton and Anthony Norman sat down with PhillyVoice via Zoom on Wednesday to discuss their excitement for their upcoming trip to Philadelphia, what the play means to them and their favorite parts of the show.

Norman stars as Evan Hansen. A multi-instrumentalist from Chicago, he has appeared in television shows including HBO’s “Mare of Easttown,” which was filmed in the region, as well as “Chicago Med” and Broadway’s “The Prom.”

Sexton, from New Jersey, plays Evan’s mother, Heidi. She made her Broadway debut in “Jekyll and Hyde,” and has been part of national tours of “Legally Blonde,” “Wicked” and “Chicago.”

PhillyVoice: So are you both in Philly now?

Coleen Sexton: No. Well, we can’t wait to get there! We are actually in Ottawa, Canada at the moment.

I’ve never been to Canada! It’s really cool. When are you going over here?

Anthony Norman: August 15th we will travel there and then we will be there for two weeks.

Have any of you been here in Philly? I know, Anthony, you’ve been to the “Mare of Easttown.”

AN: Yes, we shot somewhere out in the country. That’s where a soundscape was. And sometimes we shot on location. Very much in, kind of, the middle of nowhere most of the time, at least when I was on set, but I mostly shot on the sound stage. But I really grew to love Philly, and it’s kind of become a second home. I just love the city so much.

Yes, “Mare of Easttown” is a great show! What has it been like in general, just getting into these characters for “Dear Evan Hansen” and even forming this familial relationship between your two characters?

AN: It has been a treat to say the least. I’m shocked at how much I relate to Evan and how right everything feels. Because when I first auditioned for this, I didn’t feel like I was right for the show. And luckily the team knows what they’re doing and they said, ‘No, you’re wrong.’ And working with Coleen has been a dream because she is such a generous actor on stage – and off stage. She is a wonderful person. She is very funny. It’s great to be on stage with someone and share an intimate relationship on and off stage and just know that they’re going to be there for you, whatever, whenever, and they’ve got your back. It’s the best job in the world.

CS: I definitely agree with you 100% on that, and I feel the same way about you, “Son.” It’s been a blessing to be a part of the show, to be able to tell a story that relates and resonates with so many people, parents, kids, people who don’t fit in. I really believe that there is a character on stage for everyone in the audience – that (everyone) can relate to someone who is on stage. The music is so great to be a part of: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who also wrote “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman.” It’s just great, great songs to sing and it’s just been a blessing to be a part of it.

You mentioned Benj Pasek. He went to school in Ardmore just outside of Philly. It must be amazing to be able to bring that show here and to show what his experiences were like near this city.

CS: Yeah, and I have to say I’m excited to come to Philly because I’m from New Jersey, so I’m close to Philly. But I also lived in Phoenixville during the pandemic, so I know a little about that area, and I’m just really, really looking forward to getting there and getting a cheesesteak!

It is fun! I’m from New Jersey too! You touched on that a little bit, but what are some of the messages you hope people will take away when they come see the show in Philly or wherever they see it?

CS: I want to quickly say that there is a message, one of my favorite messages in the show—at the end of 1. act is a song called … “You Will Be Found.” The message of the song, what all the characters say, is that you are not alone. And I think that’s probably the main message throughout the show is that we’re not alone. We have business to talk to. We need to communicate with our children and know what is going on in their lives and have the conversations.

AN: Yes, I agree with that, just to start the conversation about mental health and if someone wasn’t comfortable or confident enough to tell either their parent, a friend, a spouse, a boyfriend, girlfriend, whatever, that ‘Hey, I see myself up there. I didn’t know anyone else felt that way’. And I actually struggle with that kind of thing, just to get a conversation going. I mean, that makes it the best job in the world. I also just hope people laugh a lot because after all, despite the drama in the show, of which there is plenty, there is also a ton of comedy. It’s just Steven Levenson, the book author. Man, that guy knows how to write a show. He really knows what he’s doing.

CS: I actually find myself, so many times, in everyday conversation with friends or family, actually saying lines from the show. They come out so naturally. It goes to show you that a show is so well written, you know?

Definitely! I haven’t seen the show on stage yet so I’m so excited for it to come to Philly. Do you have any favorite scenes or songs that you love to perform every time you’re up there?

AN: I love performing “For Forever.” It’s one of my favorite songs in the show. It’s a tie between that and “If I Could Tell Her,” but I really love “For Forever” because it takes the show and ramps it up for what’s to come. It’s a total turning point in the show, so it’s very exciting. And I mean, it’s just a great song and I’m very lucky to be able to sing it.

CS: Yes, and you do it so well! It really is a beautiful, beautiful number.

AN: Stop. Stop it!

CS: You stop. My favourite, by far… I mean I love all the songs, my god, it’s hard not to. But I have to say “Good For You” in Act 2 is kind of like a rock song that Heidi gets to sing and you know, being from Jersey, that’s the closest this Jersey girl will ever get to come on to be a rock star. The lights are like that and I’m going to strut down the stage. And it’s just really, absolutely one of my favorite parts of the show.

AN: It’s worth the entrance fee alone, the strut she makes down on the stage.

CS: Thanks, Anthony!

I know you are both super established in your careers so I was wondering what advice you would give to someone who really looks up to you and hopes to be where you are one day?

CS: I would say, just from personal experience, be humble. Examination; always, always, always hone your skills. I’m not going to reveal my age, but I’m a little older. And I still do my voice lessons once a month. Be giving and humble, I think is a very important message that I would give to young children.

AN: I’m just curious, who told you I was established in my career? It’s an insane thing. It is false! Huh. Be curious, ask questions and find people who inspire you. Hold on to them. And be persistent. Be very persistent. The worst anyone can say is no, and they usually won’t. From what I’ve learned – and I’m still very early in my career – but just find people who inspire you and be persistent and practice, practice.

Is there anything else you would like to mention?

AN: We have partners in mental health that we work with. The Child Mind Institute transforms the lives of children who have learning disabilities and also struggle with mental health. So, Child Mind Institute, The Trevor Project, which works with LGBTQ youth, and also the Crisis Text Line, you text 741741 and you’ll be connected to a licensed counselor, free of charge. Just in case someone is ever going through a rough time.

CS: And we can’t wait to get to Philly!


Tickets for “Dear Evan Hansen” at the Forrest Theater (1114 Walnut St.) can be purchased online now.

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