Last month, Broadway hit show Dear Evan Hansen finally opened its curtains at London’s Noël Coward Theatre. The Grammy and Tony award-winning musical, with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land, The Greatest Showman), is currently attracting crowds of excited viewers to the West End six days a week with its relatable, modern storyline, emotional songs and a cast packed with the most promising new talent London has to offer. Two of them are Nicole Raquel Dennis and Lucy Anderson, who originate the roles of Alana Beck and Zoe Murphy in London respectively. We chatted to the two talented actresses to talk about the impact the show has had, how they first got into the industry and what advice they have for any aspiring musical stars…
Can you talk us through your career to date?
Lucy: It’s pretty short! I left drama school (Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts) about six weeks early in April this year because I signed with my incredible agents Jorg Betts Associates before the academic year was up. I went straight into doing the workshop of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical Cinderella which was a ten day process. Working with the man himself was amazing! After that, I filmed a one-off episode of Doctors with the BBC and then before I knew it, I was told I had got Zoe Murphy in Dear Evan Hansen. Dream come true!
Nicole: I’ve had an unconventional journey to theatre. I finished sixth form at 18 and auditioned for loads of the top drama schools in the UK and didn’t get into any. So I was a waitress for about four years whilst still auditioning for schools. Then I started open auditions and landed my first job (Rafiki in Mickey and the Magician at Disneyland Paris) and it’s been non-stop since then. I then went on to Book of Mormon, Dreamgirls, Waitress and now Dear Evan Hansen.
When was the first time you heard about Dear Evan Hansen?
Lucy: I heard about it through being in drama school. Everybody was talking about this amazing new show by Pasek and Paul, which had this awesome score. So I gave it a listen and loved it!
Nicole: I’m obsessed with watching Tony Award performances and speeches and the first time I saw the Tony Award performance of “Waving Through a Window” I was like ‘woah, what is this show’?
What did it mean to you to be cast in the show?
Lucy: It meant everything. I was worried being a graduate would go against me but this show embraces new talent! It still hasn’t sunk in yet that I get to play a part in this story.
Nicole: Being cast in Dear Evan Hansen means the world to me for many reasons. It’s my first actual part in a show and to be originating the character Alana in London is just so big to me. And also to be part of a show that speaks to deeply to me on a mental health level feels like my voice is being heard and a lot of our audiences feel the same.
What do you think it is that makes this show so appealing?
Lucy: I think it’s appealing because it is so different to anything else out there in the musical theatre scene at the moment. It has something for everyone. We have so many young people at stage door talking to us about how much they relate to the themes connected with the show i.e. anxiety, social media, struggling to fit in. But not only that, we have parents saying they relate to the characters as well. Particularly Heidi and Cynthia who are trying to figure out how to be the best parents they can be. It’s very honest.
Nicole: It’s not sugar coated. It’s relatable and deep. People come back to it because they see themselves in every character. The underlying tone of the show is loneliness and a need to fit in and everyone at some point in their lives has felt that.
How does it feel to be bringing this beloved show to a new audience in London?
Lucy: Very exciting! It feels incredible to be part of an original London cast and hearing first-hand what our audiences think of it!
Nicole: It’s feels so exciting. During rehearsals we were itching to get it in front of an audience to see reactions and it still moves me seeing people getting emotional at curtain call. London has been waiting for this show for years, so it’s nice to be part of the original London production.
Since the show has been such a success on Broadway, do you feel any pressure to get the same buzz on the West End?
Lucy: The only pressure I felt was the pressure I was putting on myself to do well. I knew how much Zoe’s character meant to people before even knowing I was cast, so I’ve always been conscious of the fact that I didn’t want to disappoint anybody. I wanted to do Zoe justice, not just for the fans but for the writers too.
Nicole: To be honest, I don’t and I think that’s credit to our amazing creative team. They didn’t approach rehearsals with the idea of this is how they do it on Broadway so you have to do it like this. They were very kind in letting us make it our own, which took all the pressure off and also then took all the pressure of the needing to impress the audiences and let us focus on just telling the story.
Why should people go see the show?
Lucy: It’s so unique! One minute you’ll be laughing, the next you’ll be crying. It speaks to a lot of people.
Nicole: You should come and see the show if you want to see a raw and real piece of theatre. I’m so proud to be part of something this meaningful. This so is important.
What is your favourite part / song of the show to perform?
Lucy: I love performing the scene around “If I Could Tell Her” because it’s the first time you see Zoe starting to break down the walls she has built up and I also love performing “Only Us”. It’s such a sweet moment between Zoe and Evan.
Nicole: A lot of Alana’s scenes are done facing out to the audience (webcam, online chat) and “Disappear” is the only scene that you see her interact with most of the characters and it’s also my favourite song to sing in the show. The harmonies are just *chefs kiss*.
Which musical inspired you to pursue this career?
Lucy: If I’m honest, it was more my love of film that made me want to go into a career in acting but I have always loved musicals, which is why I trained in musical theatre. I figured it would give me the best chance of being able to do both stage and screen. Having said that, I remember watching a video of Laura Osnes singing “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad” from Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical and thinking “my god, I want to do this”…
Nicole: Dreamgirls. Again, watching the Tony Award performance when I was younger changed everything in my life and from that moment on I knew nothing else mattered.
What would your ultimate dream musical role be?
Lucy: I mean Zoe was a dream role! This part involves everything I could have ever wanted as an actress! Amazing songs, incredible scene-work and a great storyline. Now that I can tick that box, I’d love to play either Bonnie or Blanche in Bonnie & Clyde and I think Sophie in Mamma Mia would be fun! Also Katherine in Newsies. I’d also love to originate a role in a new musical that we don’t know about yet…
Nicole: I would like to originate a character. About a female bisexual poet. Yep. That’s it.
How do you think social media has affected the musical theatre scene?
Lucy: I think it has affected it in many ways. Some positive and some negative. I think maybe some social media influencers believe that if they build up a following they’re more likely to get work in this industry, which should not be the case. You should be hired on your talent and not your popularity. On the flip side, social media is a great tool for spreading messages. For example, Dear Evan Hansen are keen to get people talking about mental health and I think Twitter and Instagram are great apps to use to be able to reach out to people.
Nicole: It’s a different age to when I followed musical theatre in my younger years. I love social media but loathe it at the same time. There are so many amazing things that come with social media in theatre, like when an understudy goes on a tweet will go out and everyone can go and support them. But it can also be nasty and it’s hard avoiding it because we all have this need to know what people think about us and social media doesn’t help with that.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to make it in the industry?
Lucy: Just go for it! I originally got into university to be a paediatric nurse but my heart wasn’t fully in it. I thought “if I never try, I’ll never know!” It’s not for the faint-hearted though. You have to be willing to give it your all and work your socks off to get to where you want to be. Some people will slam doors in your face and others will hold them wide open. You just have to be willing to stick with it. Finally I would say, always be kind!
Nicole: You will never be the same as any performer, so don’t strive to replicate. Embrace yourself and your differences and run with that.
Dear Evan Hansen is now booking to May 2020. Get your tickets here.