Taylor Trensch on stepping into Dear Evan Hansen's demanding title role
Taylor Trensch is having a ball performing Dear Evan Hansen.
The young stage actor, most recently a comic force in the Hello, Dolly! revival and also known for his work in productions of Spring Awakening and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, has been starring in the Tony-winning musical since the beginning of February, following in the footsteps of original lauded star Ben Platt and his replacement, Noah Galvin. Dear Evan Hansen has drawn raves in the year-plus it’s been on Broadway, and it’s still selling out, resonating for its portrait of an outcast vying for validation and a high school community trying to figure out how to grieve together in the wake of a tragedy.
One might think that the show, emotionally draining enough for the audience, would take a lot out of Trensch as he settles into the demanding title role. And yet sitting down with EW only a little more than a week after his first official performance, the actor was just bubbly, all smiles and unflappably grateful — if, okay, a little tired. While his predecessors have spoken about the toll that Evan could take on them, Trensch described his unique ability to move quickly out of intensely sad, despairing character work. He even prefers that mode of performance, compared to Dolly‘s delicate if outrageous balance of comedy.
Trensch spoke with EW from Twitter’s headquarters in New York, reflecting on Hansen‘s enduring success as well as his own relationship to the show. He also touched on roles he hopes to play in the future, his distinct pre-show preparation routines, and much more. Read on below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re a week-plus in now. What’s the feeling?
TAYLOR TRENSCH: It’s been great. The cast has been so supportive, and I feel like I’m finally starting to crack it open and feel more comfortable in the role.
Going from rehearsal to live performance, is there anything about the show that’s surprised you?
Watching it from the outside, I remember seeing Ben Platt do it for the first time. It looks like such an extraordinary feat, and it is, but there’s something about being able to spend the entire two and a half hours on stage and not get a break — riding that train makes it a little easier than it appears. You get swept up in it and you don’t realize how hard you’re working while it’s happening.
What was it like when you saw Ben do it that time? Did you envision yourself playing the part at the time?
I didn’t see the show until just before my audition, so I was kind of forced to envision myself in the part. [Laughs] I came to see the show, and I have a lot of friends in the company; I was so blown away by everybody on that stage. It’s such an emotional show, and it’s also very funny and joyful. It was just extraordinary to watch that group of people tell this tough story so beautifully and honestly.
I assume you saw Noah Galvin do it as well.
I did! And Noah also has been a friend for years; I’ve been a fan of his since I saw him in this show Off-Broadway called The Burnt Part Boys at Playwrights Horizons. I’m always happy to be watching Noah on stage.
Noah brought a different energy than Ben, obviously. How did you conceive Evan yourself, in terms of what sensibility you’d bring to him?
I don’t think I made any conscious decisions to do something different. We’re all different humans and different actors, so it just sort of happens. I saw the show once with Ben, once with Noah, and once with Michael E. Brown, who plays Evan Hansen on Wednesday and Saturday matinees. I saw it so few times I didn’t really get any one person’s performance stuck in my brain. It would be hard for me to even steal things from people, because I didn’t get to really study them. The differences in our performances come about naturally.
Did Ben and Noah give any tips?
They didn’t actually, those jerks! [Laughs] I feel like we can talk later now that we have had this shared experience, in terms of how difficult it is, but they were both really nice in letting me discover this on my own and not try to lead me in any specific way.
After the show, having done something so draining, do you struggle to switch into that signing-Playbills space?
I don’t, actually. I’ve been working professionally since I was 19, 20, and I often am cast in dark shows. I think I’ve figured out how to get out of it quickly, because it can be harmful and even more exhausting than it needs to be. I usually make a joke about butts as soon as the show is over so we can get out of it. And luckily, everybody on stage is so playful and funny; we all come out of it together.
Well most recently you did the sunnier Hello, Dolly! — is there a mode you prefer to work in?
It’s a little easier for me to do the Dear Evan Hansen, Spring Awakening type-things. I loved working on Hello, Dolly!, certainly, but it was also terrifying. That was my first time doing broad farce, so it was often very scary — but totally gratifying. But I live more comfortably in the sadness and the despair.
Why is that?
I don’t know. A lot of actors say that drama is easier than comedy, because there’s music and timing to comedy — it’s so much more specific when it’s successful. And maybe because I live most of my days in a very opposite place — I’m always trying to make people laugh — that maybe for some reason that makes it easier to jump to the other side of the spectrum.
The show is still a huge hit. Why do you think that it continues to resonate?
It’s truly just so universal. Everybody who comes to see the show — you identify with some character on stage — but I think we all identify with Evan at least a tiny bit, because we all desire to be seen and understood and validated. It’s also just a play about family, and we’re all a member of some sort of family. It’s just universal.
Speaking of family: Much of the show’s family has been there for a long time now.
It’s the most generous, most supportive, most fun group of actors to work with. We had a notes session last night after the show, and they made it a point to say at the end of the notes session how amazing it is that, after [more than 500] performances, it still feels so alive. It’s such a testament to how talented they are. I’m on stage with them every night: Every night, they’re so alive and honest. It’s like a dream come true to be with them.
For actors your age, this is kind of the role of the moment. What would top it?
There are so many theater artists I’d love to work with: Annie Baker. Prior, in Angels in America, has been a dream role of mine for a long time. Andrew Garfield beat me to it; I’ll let him have this one. I also would love to play Sally Bowles in Cabaret, but I don’t know how feasible that is. I just want to keep working, making cool plays.