When Taylor Trensch stepped into the title role in the Tony-winning Best Musical Dear Evan Hansen at the Music Box Theatre in February 2018, his biggest fear was “replacing a performance that was the stuff of legend,” says Trensch. “The second big fear was singing.”
Though Trensch exited musical blockbuster Hello, Dolly! (where he played Barnaby Tucker) to join the intimate contemporary show from director Michael Greif, audiences will be surprised to hear him confess: “I will always be more comfortable and happier in a play than a musical.” Make no mistake, Trensch brings singing chops to one of the Main Stem’s most vocally demanding roles, but it’s not the place he begins when thinking about Evan, whom he continues as through January 27, 2019.
Trensch considers the story—about a teenage outcast whose lie leads him to the sense of belonging he’s always craved—from an actor’s point of view more than a singer’s, rendering his interpretation of the iconic character an entirely new one. Portraying a teenager with crippling social anxiety, Trensch explores a manifestation of angst that hums below the surface. “I wanted the inner turmoil to be a little more hidden—that he was doing a job of protecting that from the world,” says Trensch. “As much as he wants to be seen and heard and understood and validated by the people around him, he’s scared of the consequences. It’s a yearning for that [connection], but also a ‘I’m not ever going to signal to anyone that I need help.’”
A far cry from the carefree and sunny Barnaby, but more akin to his previous roles as Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Moritz in Spring Awakening, Trensch feels more at home in this melancholy territory. “In comedy, there’s timing, there’s music, there’s pace, there’s so many more technical things to successfully do a comedy. This—where there’s glimpses of lightness and humor, but overall it’s a dark show and it’s really about telling the truth—if you can just be honest with the people onstage, that is when the show works,” he says.
How does he know when he’s reached that honest place? “When a scene ends and you don’t remember what happened, that’s a good signal,” he says. So Trensch focuses his energy on staying present and losing himself in the character. “A show like this that’s so intimate and small and the tone is very real, very natural…when everybody onstage is relaxed and listening to each other, it starts to sparkle and come alive.”
His matching subtlety allows his performance to be a vehicle for Evan and the other characters and voices and stories onstage. “I wanted the writing to be highlighted and for [the show] to feel like an ensemble of actors instead of a show about this one boy.” Trensch sees himself and Evan as pieces of this larger puzzle.
After all, Trensch says he’s “not a leading man type.” Though the perception of a leading man type is changing, Trensch isn’t interested. “I like being on the outside,” he says. “I feel like there’s way more interesting territory being on the periphery.”
Dear Evan Hansen plays Broadway’s Music Box Theatre (239 W 45th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues) in an open-ended run.