"This is not the first time I've played a troubled teen that does something bad to himself, combined with also being an imaginary friend…Which is weirdly specific."
Alex Boniello punctuates this sentence with a laugh. "I told my parents and they were like, 'Oh, no. Again?' "
In 2015, Boniello made his Broadway debut in Michael Arden's Deaf West Theatre revival of Spring Awakening. In the production, Boniello served as the voice of Moritz, speaking and singing the role completely in sync with deaf performer Daniel N. Durant, who acted and signed the part.
Now, Boniello is getting ready to replace Mike Faist in Dear Evan Hansen. Beginning May 15, Boniello will play Connor, the troubled young man whose desperate act sets the plot in motion.
It's a show he's loved since he first saw it, and a role that he tracked until it became available. He's not taking the responsibility lightly, either. "I'm the first replacement for a Tony nominee," Boniello says, "in a show that won a billion awards and is making a zillion dollars a week. I want to make sure that I'm not messing up what they worked hard to create, so it's really cool that they're letting me find what works for me."
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
You got your first Broadway role, the voice of Moritz in Deaf West's Spring Awakening, in an unorthodox way. Tell me about that, and how the Dear Evan Hansen process differed.
With Spring Awakening, it was a really specific thing they were looking for, someone who would be right for the role on their own, but would also get along working with a deaf cast, and could also play the score on guitar. I'm sure they were not pulling from a very wide pool of people. Matt Doyle had given cast member Andy Mientus my name and he Twitter-messaged me saying, "We heard you might be right for this," and it worked out.
Dear Evan Hansen was the most normal casting process I've ever had in my life. I saw the show off-Broadway and then on Broadway, and asked my agent and manager to keep their ears open to find out when Mike Faist was ready to move on. I feel like so many people have this cool story of doing an audition and getting an offer, feeling like they've earned it. In the last case, I feel like I lucked my way into it, so I didn't have that feeling of "I did it." That was cool to experience this time.
How do you see Connor, the character you're about to take on?
It's interesting. You don't really ever get to know who he is, and then by the time he's a more prominent figure in the show, he's somebody else's idea of him. He becomes what that person needs in that given moment of time. It's been fun to mess around with Michael Greif and talk about how that works. I'm still figuring it out and I feel like I won't really know the ins and outs of it until I'm in it.
What's the best piece of advice that Mike Faist has provided about playing Connor?
It's been cool to watch Mike and learn from everything he's been doing for the last four years. It's less about talking about the character and more about the mechanics of doing it. Every night, I sit in his dressing room and follow him downstairs and I'll watch him in the wings. This character has lots of breaks throughout the show, which is terrifying because you have to make sure you're listening for a certain part of a song, and then you have to run down five flights of stairs to make sure you're there in time. It's so in his body that he and Will Roland can be having a conversation, and I'm sweating, like, "Don't you have to go downstairs? Are you not nervous?" And they're like, "Oh, you gotta chill."
What are you most looking forward to?
I'm looking forward to just doing it. I've loved this show since the first time I saw it. I'm excited to be in it and work with Taylor Trensch, because I've been a fan of his for a long time. He played Moritz on the original tour of Spring Awakening and came to our invited dress rehearsal in 2015. He wrote me a note that was one of those things like…"When you move to Broadway and everything's happening so quickly, you get a little in over your head." He was the first person to reach out with a really kind message, so it's a full-circle kind of moment.
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