Mallory Bechtel and Lisa Brescia Meet Evan Hansen
Broadway's new Zoe Murphy and Heidi Hansen on their journey with the Tony-winning musical.
Mallory Bechtel and Lisa Brescia have seen Dear Evan Hansen from a number of perspectives. Both actors almost took part in workshops of it. Both saw the show as audience members. And both served as vacation covers for the roles they're playing now, Zoe Murphy and Heidi Hansen, early in the Broadway run.
Bechtel, fresh off her high school graduation, and Brescia, a former leading lady of Mamma Mia! and Wicked and currently a professor of acting at Missouri State University, are putting their academic pursuits on hold to take in the view from a Broadway stage.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What was your first exposure to Dear Evan Hansen?
Lisa Brescia: Rachel Bay Jones is a friend, and when she wasn't available for one of the workshops, Michael Greif asked if I would be a placeholder, so to speak, and I was totally game for it. Rachel became available, and Michael called me personally to say, "I'm so sorry." But I was like, "Of course! This is her part!" I was touched that he thought of me.
When it opened, I flew in to see it with Randy Graff right before the Tonys, and she turned to me at intermission and said, "That's a great part for you." When they were looking for vacation coverage for the moms last summer, my manager asked if I was interested. At the time, my headspace was really about tenure and promotion at Missouri State. My research is performance, so it's a great leap forward in the tenure process to be on Broadway.
Mallory Bechtel: I auditioned for a reading of it when I was 15. I was way too young. Then, for my 17th birthday, we spent Thanksgiving in New York. Dear Evan Hansen opened right around that time, so we saw it, and it was one of the greatest shows I've ever seen. I got the audition to be a vacation understudy, so I did that in August with Lisa, and then I did again in January. I found out in December that I would eventually take over the part.
What is the rehearsal process like as a vacation understudy, compared with rehearsals for the role full-time?
Mallory: When I first started rehearsing, it was very much about doing Laura's performance. When it became about what I wanted to do, there was a lot more exploring. I'm a lot more confident now than I was as a vacation understudy. Just knowing that it's yours, and you're not…trespassing is a weird word, but that's what comes to mind. When we started rehearsing, Adrienne Campbell-Holt, one of the associate directors, said, "I think as you've gotten older, your Zoe has gotten more mature and confident." I've grown up with it a little bit.
Lisa: Before last summer when my priorities had shifted to the teaching career, vacation covering wasn't something that would have interested me. But to have the opportunity to do it last summer was interesting. I had two performances scheduled as each mom, and I was incredibly stoked to be able to come in and rehearse two vastly different roles and get to perform each one of them. It was really exciting, as an actor, to have that opportunity.
They really did want the overall shape and idea of the performance to be along the lines of the original, yet there was some freedom and some direction from Michael that was geared towards me. He loved what she was doing, but he was seeing my essence and allowing me to explore a little more than I think is typical of a vacation cover.
I feel freedom in this company to not be a cookie-cutter version of something. There's a lot of specific, actor-friendly guidance that's helpful. They just trust us to really bring something unique and solid to the show. Having that kind of confidence in us is critical when there's that expectation of being the first replacement.
As actors, what are you hoping to take away from being part of the Dear Evan Hansen experience? Did you go in with goals in mind?
Lisa: I did. I'm a teacher. I teach movement and voice and scene study and process. I was really able to practice that and put the theory into practice myself, rather than witnessing it in my students. My goal was to prepare so diligently and thoroughly that when I stepped onstage in that first moment, I would feel confident and free and able to be present, and not get undone in any way by nerves. I feel like I was able to do that to a great extent.
Mallory: This was my first rodeo, so it is such a gift to just be able to play the role. When I saw the role, I just thought, "That is something that I want to do one day." And then to watch Laura do it so much and to rehearse and train on the sidelines, it's so gratifying. I love doing it. It's so amazing how I was such a bundle of nerves the first show. It's just fun now.