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BWW Interview: Actor Jason Michael Evans Talks ANASTASIA's North American Tour

BWW Interview: Actor Jason Michael Evans Talks ANASTASIA's North American Tour
Jason Michael Evans in Anastasia as Gleb Vaganov,
a staunch Soviet soldier who has conflicted feelings about his latest order.
ANASTASIA plays at the Hobby Center March 5-10, 2019.

Stalin, Lenin, mass executions. Who knew that war and civil unrest would make a good backdrop for a love story? Well, a lot of people. Margaret Mitchell, Victor Hugo, the Hollywood execs behind THE NOTEBOOK. But that doesn't make Anastasia, a romantic musical from librettist Terrence McNally, and composers Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, any less impressive.

ANASTASIA is set during the bloody Russian Civil War (and Russian Revolution), for God's sake, and it's still kid-friendly. Anastasia performer Jason Michael Evans has seen 3-year-olds at the stage door asking for autographs, and even his 3-year-old nephew attended a performance. "He's not even quite old enough to separate uncle-the-actor from uncle-the-person, and he still is OK," says Evans, laughing.

Still, the actor says, Anastasia is not a kid's show. "Even though it's based, partially, off an animated film that was aimed for children, every lyric, every line written ... it's real. Real human connections," he says. "Everyone can connect to these characters and I think that comes from the writing, first and foremost. When you have multiple Tonys and Golden Globe nominations, you're going to really get some depth and literature on stage."

Because there are real human emotions and stakes, the show can get intense. But Evans says his character, Gleb Vaganov, "is far and away the most intense part of Anastasia."

Gleb, a young general and star member of the Bolshevik regime, is the first to meet Anya, a beautiful amnesiac thought to be Anastasia, a former grand duchess rumored to have escaped the brutal execution of her entire family. He is immediately smitten. But his lineage -- Gleb's father had a hand in executing Anastasia's family -- and his orders (to assassinate Anya) are in opposition to his love.

"The show is that conflict, weighing out his duty versus his feelings and trying to figure out what to do next and what is the right thing to do. His morality or the regime, the cause," says Evans.

Evans insists his character is not an antagonist, but a foil, noting that modern audiences have a gift of hindsight unavailable to Gleb. "In [his] place and time, [Gleb] doesn't know what Joseph Stalin's going to be ... He's just doing honestly what he thinks is best for the people."

Also, to be fair to Gleb, Nicholas II was an autocrat and the Okhrana, the monarch's secret police, were as merciless as the Bolshevik secret police--Cheka. Really, Gleb is a bad guy with a heart of gold. "You can see that he's someone who has morals, who believes in the greater good," says Evans.

Evans is well-suited for the role. He played Bad Guy Gone Good, Beast, in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Ogunquit Playhouse. And he played a plain old Bad Guy, Gaston, in the PLCO production of the Disney classic.

And before working with decorated director Darko Tresnjak on Anastasia, Evans played Private Augenti under the direction of famed director John Doyle at Classic Stage Company, where Doyle is artistic director.

Good practice for the complex situations of Anastasia. "Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's storytelling is on a level that few composers have ever achieved," Evans says. "Not only great melodies and great accompaniment and orchestrations, but the storytelling of each song is captivating.

"There are duets, laced with subtext and history and nuance. It's really amazing how versatile those two are and how brilliantly they work together. Just look at their catalog of shows. Talk about versatility. The same people who wrote RAGTIME, wrote ONCE ON THIS ISLAND ... wrote Anastasia."

In the interview, Evans spends more time promoting his colleagues than listing his own accomplishments. The ballet numbers are so athletic, you'll be out of breath when they've finished. And he promises that Tari Kelly (Countess Lily) will give you a bellyache from all the laughter.

Above all, he stresses the importance of Anya, played by Lila Coogan. "Anya is the person who is hero of the show, who goes through a huge emotional journey, who drives the show," he says.

Anya's crucial role to the musical is noteworthy. Oftentimes, women and female characters are relegated to supporting roles. Not so in Anastasia. "With Anastasia, you have this female lead protagonist, who is this beacon of strength and everything a person, male or female, should be," says Evans. "And someone that anyone should look up to."

ANASTASIA. March 5-10, 2019. Produced by Mischer Neurosciences and Broadway at the Hobby Center. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday - Thursday, and Sunday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby Street. For information, please call (800) 982-2787 or visit Tickets start at $35. Discounts available for groups of 10 or more.

Performance schedule, prices and cast are subject to change without notice.

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From This Author Katricia Lang