Sam Primack almost made it.
“All I see is sky …” he sang. Then the actor, who was playing Evan Hansen on Broadway, paused, looked out at the 1,025 faces in the sold-out Music Box Theater. He shifted. Choked up. Looked down.
“… for forever,” he finished, wiping back a tear as he let out the final two words of the show. It was the closing night of “Dear Evan Hansen,” the musical about a socially awkward teenager who tells a terrible lie.
The audience — including superfans in striped blue polos; a handful of first-timers with suitcases who’d arrived straight from the airport; the musical’s creators, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Steven Levenson; and its director, Michael Greif — broke into a thunderous round of applause. (Five Evans — Andrew Barth Feldman, Stephen Christopher Anthony, Jordan Fisher, Michael Lee Brown and Zachary Noah Piser — arrived onstage later for a final bow.) Since its Broadway debut on Nov. 14, 2016, and with Sunday’s performance, “Dear Evan Hansen” had been seen by more than 1.5 million theatergoers and played 1,699 total performances.
“I feel very loved,” a smiling Primack, 21, said in his dressing room after the show. Looking dapper in a maroon suit, he was clutching one of the bouquets of white hydrangeas given to cast members onstage after the performance.
“Dear Evan Hansen,” which won the Tony Award for best new musical in 2017, had its world premiere at Arena Stage in Washington in 2015, followed by an Off Broadway run at Second Stage Theater before a Broadway transfer. It went on to win six Tonys, as well as a Grammy Award for its cast album, and the Olivier Award for best new musical for the London production.
But, like other long-running shows that restarted after the pandemic, it faced a new challenge: Tourists and international audiences that had not yet fully returned. In June, its producers announced that the curtain would soon come down for the final time; the West End production in London will also close in October, but the North American tour will continue. (Most recently, “The Phantom of the Opera” announced on Friday that it would close next year after 35 years.)
“I’d like to blame it on Covid, I really would,” Stacey Mindich, the musical’s lead producer, wrote in an essay for American Theater magazine earlier this week. “But perhaps our story was too emotional for these already difficult times. Perhaps the poorly reviewed film of the same name diminished our audience. Perhaps it was just our time.”
It was a bit of a cruel twist for Primack, whose casting was announced in February — before the show had set a closing date — and who took over the role less than two weeks ago, on Sept. 6. Though he began his career, when he was 17, as an understudy in the Broadway production for all three of the male leads — Evan, Connor Murphy and Jared Kleinman — and then joined the national tour as the Evan alternate, he got to play Evan just 12 times on the Broadway stage this month before clearing the rack of polo shirts out of his dressing room.
“It’s been unexpectedly short, but also, I’m happy that this is the way that it’s ending,” Primack said before the show, seated in his dressing room surrounded by a red Upstate & Chill sticker, the book “Creativity, Inc.,” by the Pixar Animation co-founder Ed Catmull, and a closet cracked open to reveal a rack of striped blue polos.
In an interview before that performance, and then in a brief conversation afterward — he had an after-party to get to, after all! — Primack, who grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz., reflected on being the final actor to play Evan on Broadway, how his own experiences with bullies informed his performance and whether Evan is a good person. These are edited excerpts from the conversations.
You clearly had a lot of supporters in the house tonight. Who all did you invite?
My whole family — my grandparents, my whole team, some of whom had never seen me perform before. And my teachers from high school are here.
Were you a fan of the show before you were cast?
I remember staying up until midnight knowing that the cast recording was going to come out, not even knowing what the show was about. I had heard “Waving Through a Window” and I was intrigued. I begged my mom to come to New York to see it, and I saw it with the original cast and got to meet Ben [Platt] afterward. I remember saying to all my friends, “I would love to be in this show more than anything,” so closing it feels like coming full circle.
What’s the most challenging part of the show?
The last 30 minutes, Evan gets to a real desperate and ugly and scary place that every night is a challenge. He is at a point where he will really do anything.
What’s the best advice a former Evan has given you?
Just breathe. Because you’re out there by yourself a lot of the time in these really dark scenarios, your mind can wander into really dark places.
Can you personally relate to Evan?
I was in high school when the show came out, so I know what it was like, and what it’s still like, to go through this age of social media where everyone feels disconnected and people are putting on a front online. And I also have family members — and myself — who go through anxiety.
How did you put your own stamp on the role?
In middle school, I used to wear these really big shirts and I would pull on them a lot to hide myself from the bullies at school. And I fidget with my hands a lot, both of which are things I tried to bring in.
Would you be friends with Evan?
I would hope so — I was a theater kid in high school, so I always felt like I was on the outside looking in.
Is he a good person?
I don’t think people are good or bad. I think all people are flawed, and so is Evan.
Why do you think the show resonates with people?
People see themselves in the characters, and not just Evan. This is the first time a piece of theater has really touched on suicide and mental health and the stigmas around them. After the show, I have gotten a copious amount of “Thank you for seeing me, thank you for understanding me” messages. Or “This show has made me open up conversations with my own family.” That’s what kept me going for the last three and a half years.
What’s next for you?
I don’t know! I have to, for the first time since I got this, go back to auditioning, go back to all the hardships of being a working actor. But I’m really excited for the future and am just really happy that this show has propelled me to be able to get in some doors.
If we looked in on Evan on his 27th birthday, what would he be doing?
I hope that he’s still writing; I hope that he’s at a place in life where he knows that he can keep going forward. I think he ends the show in a place where he starts to learn that, but I hope that, 10 years down the line, he does really understand that things can get better.
Let’s do a quick round of confirm or deny.
Evan is a Hufflepuff.
You have a striped polo in your closet.
I do own a polo, but I don’t know if it’s striped.
You use a saw to get the cast off your arm at intermission.
Yes, thank goodness the dressers are also good at their jobs because we haven’t had an injury yet.
The best song in the show is “You Will Be Found.”
Oh, no, I think the best song is “For Forever.” It’s the first time we get to see Evan let go and be happy.
When you saw the trailer for the film, you thought Ben Platt was wearing a wig.
Given a choice, you would see “Hamilton” over “Dear Evan Hansen.”
You can’t do that! But, I mean, I’d love to see “Hamilton” again — I’ve seen this show a thousand times. [Laughs]
Source: NY Times