Mike Faist is playing Connor in the critically acclaimed production of Pasek and Paul’s Dear Evan Hansen at Arena Stage. Here we talk about his journey with the show.
Joel: When did you first get the ‘theater bug’ and what is your first memory of appearing on the stage? Where did you get your theater training?
Mike: I first knew I wanted to pursue theater from a pretty young age after watching Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain. Pretty soon after that I had my parents get me in dance classes. As far as one of my earliest memories of being on stage…I remember doing dance recitals with my hair spiked up wearing a suit with a pink tie and my fly being down for the entire number. So I like to think I developed a sensible amount of thick skin from my youth.
When did you first get involved in Dear Evan Hansen and why did you want to be part of this production?
I first got involved with DEH over a year ago. I remember auditioning for Connor for a 29-hour reading of the show. They didn’t give us the scripts when we were auditioning just the sides. After I got the job, Michael Greif sent us all home with the scripts after the first day of rehearsal and told us to read the show on our own. So that night I sat on the floor of my apartment and found myself going through this 200-page document that touched my heart. And each reading that we did just reinforced my belief in this show.
You play Connor in the show. Who is Connor and what is the show about from Connor’s point of view?
Connor represents a lot of teenagers in the way Evan Hansen represents a lot of teenagers in the fact that they are both outsiders. “On the outside always looking in.” But what’s interesting is the difference between the two characters who are going through something very similar. What separates Connor from Evan is how they deal with their struggle. Which is very human I think and what sets individuals apart. What I mean by that is everyone on this planet is truly making it up as the go in their daily lives and sometime it is hard and terrifying, but how we cope with the struggles is what sets us apart. And I think this message comes across very strongly with these two characters.
How did you prepare for your role and how did director Michael Greif help you prepare for your role? What was the best advice he gave you on playing Connor?
Without giving too much of the story away, I will say I looked at various websites that deal with what Connor is going through and there are multiple stories of young adults and teenagers that have been through what Connor has, and reading about those stories has been very influential in making who Connor represents. With Michael’s gel as well as our wonderful, hard-working writers we were able to really fluctuate who Connor was and what influence he has in the show. The best piece of advice Michael gave was not necessarily advice at all, but rather instilling confidence. Making a new show is hard let alone a new MUSICAL, and Michael is really great at delegating and keeping the ship going.
How would you describe the score that Pasek and Paul have written for Dear Evan Hansen and what song that you do not sing is your favorite and why?
I would never say I’m an expert in music, or theater, or musical theater for that fact, but what I will say about Benj Pasek and Justin Paul is their approach to a song is with so much thought. Writing phrases and notes for us as actors while making it work for the character. I think the best way to describe the music is that for one second you are in the scene and all of the sudden you are in the middle of a song and you are being moved both emotionally but moved plot-wise as well as character-wise. You get to grow with every single one of these characters through the music. My favorite song is Heidi’s (Rachel Bay Jones) song in the second act. Not going to spoil anything by saying why… just come see for yourself… you won’t be sorry.
What has impressed you the most about your fellow castmates’ performances?
What has impressed me most about my cast mates? Again… come see for yourself.
How would you describe the audiences in DC and what has surprised you about their reaction to the show?
The D.C. crowd has been great. For us we have been changing things every show and the D.C. crowd has been very honest with their reactions. They have been extremely insightful and significant in our preview process. They have been an excellent crowd to bounce ideas off of.
Are there any roles that you have performed on the stage or film before that are similar to this role that you are playing in Dear Evan Hansen?
Two years ago I did a play at The Signature Theater in New York called Appropriate that got its start in D.C. after Sundance I believe. I played a teenager who was going through a lot of similarities that Connor was. But they are very different roles still but a lot of similarities.
You created the role of Morris Delancey in Newsies. What memories do you have of appearing in the show and playing this character and why do you think the show continues to sell out houses?
Doing Newsies on Broadway was a dream. What I will remember most is the camaraderie with that cast. I mean that was my college experience that was my fraternity. The people in the show are incredible beings and audiences see that. They see the joy, and it’s infectious when you see Jack Kelly and the Newsies do their thing. That’s why it sells out. Because it’s doing what theater is supposed to do and the whole reason I do it… It makes people feel a way. Infectious joy.
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing Dear Evan Hansen?
That is exactly what I want people to take away with Dear Evan Hansen, not anything specific but I want them to be moved. DEH is a more complicated piece of material than Newsies. One is not better than the other you cannot compare the two. Whatever people take away from DEH is up to them. We are not here to force people to feel any kind of way. We are asking questions and the audience can reflect on those questions as they so choose. There is no right answer only more questions.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
Dear Evan Hansen plays through August 23, 2015 in the Kreeger Theater at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater – 1101 Sixth Street SW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 488-3300, or purchase them online.
Derek Mong reviews Dear Evan Hansen on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Magic Time!: A Love Letter to ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ by John Stoltenberg.
Dear Evan Hansen info on Pasek and Paul’s website.