Jordan Fisher exudes a gentleness and tranquility that could put anyone at ease and yet he's currently starring as the most anxious character on Broadway: Evan Hansen.
The Dancing With the Stars Season 25 champ—also seen in Fox's Grease! and Rent and Netflix's To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You—may be considered a dancer first by some, but he disagrees. “I’m an actor first,” he says. “I just also can dance, but I started in drama. My wheelhouse is that.” Now, he exercises those muscles as the teen practically paralyzed by social anxiety until a tragedy unintentionally opens the door to his acceptance.
He first fell in love with Evan at the start of his time as John Laurens/Philip Schuyler in Hamilton on Broadway back in 2016. A mutual friend of Laura Dreyfuss (Dear Evan Hansen’s original Zoe Murphy) mentioned the incoming musical and the single, “Waving Through a Window,” that he just had to listen to. “I put my headphones on walking down 46th [Street] and it just slapped me across the face,” Fisher recalls. “I was like, ‘Everything about this feels so good. It’s a bop and it’s honest and I love it.’ That’s where the fandom began.”
He and his Grease: Live co-star Vanessa Hudgens saw the show together for the first time. “I have never had such an outpour of emotional resonance,” he says. “Literally, Vanessa had to console me. I had to be consoled.”
Despite his visceral response to the show, “Never did I think that it was going to be physically possible for any other human being to play the role after watching Ben Platt do it,” Fisher sats. “This is an astounding feat and he helped develop and create how you and hear and see and feel him.”
But four years later, Fisher is a different actor—and a different man. “I especially am grateful that I’ve experience what I’ve experienced in my personal life before taking this on because there is a strength you get from it,” he says. “Learning Evan—where the material is concerned—is like learning another language. There is a fracturing in his phrasing that is so difficult to learn. I’ve never had a harder time getting off book for something in my career.” A natural baritone, Fisher has also been working intensely with the production’s vocal consultant Liz Caplan to find his way into the Benj Pasek-Justin Paul score and stretch his vocal limits. His efforts have paid off.
What the actor also gives is a new dimension to the role, as the first actor of color to play the lead full time. “For any person of color to come into the theatre and sit down and see somebody that they can relate to on a surface level and then start to dig deep with this person and feel less alone, feel less burdened by social anxiety, feel like they belong, it’s a very powerful thing,” he says.
The story may ring differently for audiences when an upper-middle class white family (as the Murphys are currently portrayed) takes in this young boy of color, and the full creative team has discussed this. “If we have a general understanding of how this could be perceived and received, it can only help an audience maybe find some of the nuances, as well,” Fisher says. The idea is that audiences “can find different notes and nuances in both [versions of Evan] that you appreciate and you love and, should you choose to, it’s entirely open to interpretation and you’re allowed to.”
But Fisher’s freshness is more than skin deep. His Evan is one who leads completely with his heart. He aims to emphasize “the beauty in his intention,” Fisher says.
“It’s a story about a boy who needs a family and a family who needs a boy; it’s a story about a letter that was never supposed to be written and a lie that was never supposed to be told,” he says. “And how someone navigates this and manages it, especially upon seeing the humanity and his joy and this other family’s joy and peace that’s brought to everybody during a very difficult and stressful situation.
“Evan…his heart,” he pauses. “It’s just too big. It’s too big for him.”
It’s that affection for the character, the magnetic pull to the softness within him—rather than the edginess that has characterized so many Evans before—that differentiates Fisher’s take on the role. Navigating the challenge has been Fisher’s ultimate joy.
As he says, “I’ve never been more artistically stimulated, genuinely, in my career.”