Dear Evan Hansen actor hails from Locust Valley
When Dear Evan Hansen opened on Broadway in December, it was already surrounded by a year’s worth of positive buzz. Now a huge hit, Long Island native Will Roland is enjoying success with the musical that’s part drama, part comedy and all heart.
Roland spent his first 8 years in the East Village before moving to Locust Valley. He attended Friends Academy for middle and high school.
“All of my roots are definitely founded in school,” said Roland. “I always enjoyed singing and choir and when I went to Friends, they had this spectacular program, with really great facilities and teachers who inspired me. That’s where I caught the bug, so to speak.”
Roland then enrolled at NYU for musical theatre and began his professional pursuits after graduating.
“There are those people who graduate from high school feeling ready to go, like fully formed actors ready to bring their talents to the world,” Roland said. “I felt very much in process and avoided putting myself out there professionally until I had graduated.”
He auditioned for Dear Evan Hansen in the summer of 2014 when it was still “the untitled Pasek Paul Levinson musical.” Roland did several readings and earned the role of Jared Kleinman, a “family friend” of the main character, Evan. The show was workshopped in Washington D.C. in the summer of 2015, then came back to town for a sold-out run at Second Stage Theatre this past spring, before ultimately landing on Broadway.
“I’m very grateful to say I’ve been with this project since nearly the very beginning,” said Roland. “The process of developing the character and working with the writers and with Michael Greif, our director, has been totally eye-opening in terms of what goes into making a new show. To get the chance to make my mark on that has been the opportunity of a lifetime.”
The show, which touches on themes of depression, anxiety and social awkwardness, has its dark moments, but is also full of comedy as well. Roland’s character, Jared, injects a lot of humor into the production that has audiences crying one moment and bowled over laughing the next.
Roland’s comedic timing and delivery is on point. “I had the great fortune of being with the project so long that lots of…the script plays to my strengths and downplays my weaknesses,” he said, adding, “It’s not every day you get comedy that is tested over a number of years on you.”
Dear Evan Hansen stands out for many reasons, including its integration of technology and social media into the plot and visuals of the show. “Around here we often talk about the Internet and virtual community as being the ninth character in the show,” Roland said.
“In the age we live in, especially for young people, the power and influence of social media in their lives can feel inescapable at times,” he said. “A lot of design and story elements and the voices [of the online community] are meant to exert pressure on Evan and the other people on stage. The internet becomes a tool by which they communicate, a driving force that affects their decisions and sometimes, we hope, helps justify some of the actions they take.”
Roland sees a bit of himself in Jared. They both enjoy feeling witty and smart, but there are clear distinctions between the two. “I like to think that I’m a lot more sensitive than Jared is and more aware of what I’m saying and what it means to people,” he said. “In Jared’s case, he often hides his true desires behind this veneer of comedy. Teasing Evan is his way of asking Evan to be his friend and validate him, in a strange, roundabout, kind of sad way.”
A thread carried throughout Dear Evan Hansen is the idea that if you are feeling lost, “you will be found.” Roland hopes people walk away from the show feeling hopeful.
“It’s very easy in our darkest toughest moments to feel as though we are the only person in the entire world who understands what we are going through,” Roland said. “It is my hope that the play can help people realize they do have people around them who love and understand and care about them, who can help them through those difficult times.”
He also describes another message of the show. “Social media was a thing that emerged as I was finishing high school. Nowadays, social media is this incredibly prevalent 24/7 thing in your life,” he said. “It’s very easy to be on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat and think that the things they are broadcasting are that person’s unedited, unfiltered, unabridged life.”
He continued, “You look at that and say ‘wow, they are having so much fun and they are so happy, so beautiful, so great, and my life is not like that at all.’ Whereas the things that we put online are always manipulated and filtered and cleaned up. There is never a true-to-life 100 percent accurate representation of ourselves. It is my hope to remind us all, especially young people in the audience, of that.”
The show accomplishes this objective and more. Roland has deeply enjoyed the experience.
“It’s been pretty incredible to be honest, [knowing] the amount that it has meant to people and touched people,” Roland said. “You only get so many chances to be in a good show in your career. Only so many really touch people’s hearts and minds. That has been the most incredible takeaway.”
Dear Evan Hansen is at The Music Box Theatre, 239 W 45th St., New York. For tickets, visit www.telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200. For the complete performance schedule, visit www.dearevanhansen.com.
The soundtrack to Dear Evan Hansen will be available Feb. 3. Preorder at www.dearevanhansen.com/media.
For more about Will Roland, visit his website at www.will-roland.com.