The 2017 Tony winner for Best Musical, “Dear Evan Hansen,” hits the Aronoff Center April 30-May 12 as a continuation of Broadway in Cincinnati’s 2018-19 season.
Among the touring cast is the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM)’s own Ciara Alyse Harris, who graduated from CCM in 2018 with a bachelor’s in musical theatre.
The News Record spoke with Harris to learn more about the show, life as an understudy, what she learned from CCM and much more.
The News Record: You are in the Tony award winning broadway hit “Dear Evan Hansen.” What drew you to this show?
Ciara Alyse Harris: While I was still in school, my friend saw it on Broadway, came back to school, and he said, “Oh my god, you have to see this show. This is amazing.” I feel like it’s incredibly relatable. I thought the music was amazing and very, very catchy. I thought, “I need to be in this; I want to be in this.”
TNR: You are an understudy for both Alana and Zoe, and you’ve gotten to go on for both ladies quite a few times. For those who might not know, what does your role as an understudy entail?
Harris: My job entails being ready all the time at any given moment. Since we don't have an ensemble, we’re technically also standbys. So, I usually find out between an hour or two hours before [curtain] that I'm going on.
Sometimes, on matinees, it'll basically change the whole course of my day. At 9 a.m. I'll have breakfast, and then I'll find out at 10:30 that I have to go on. The whole team … has to put my costume pieces together, and everything gets switched around when we find out that I'm going on. So, it really affects everyone — not just me.
What's really cool about it is that every time feels like opening night. I just never know what's happening. It's fun to do it with the main cast, because we don't rehearse with them. As understudies, we only rehearse together. We do runs of the show every two weeks only with each other. It allows you to be really present.
TNR: How has it been coming straight out of school, and then getting to travel and bring this show’s story to audiences around the U.S.?
Harris: It has been amazing, scary and really, really crazy. I moved to the city with a lease that was supposed to last for a whole year. I was under the impression that I would live in the city for at least a year. So, I found out [about the show] about two weeks before rehearsal started. As a lot of jobs in theatre do, they change the course of the rest of your life for that moment. Then you think, “Okay, great. I’ve got to get back to the city, I need to pack all of my things,” because I moved everything I owned into the city. Then I thought, “I need to find a sublet. This is going to be great. I’m going to do this and it’s going to be awesome.”
It's just been the craziest of experiences, because I didn’t know a lot about the business at all before I got out here. So, I've learned a lot about the way that the business handles things. I’ve learned a lot about how to be a performer, how to be ready when I need to be ready, and a lot about people too. We have such a small cast, which is great, and sometimes difficult because we spend so much time together, but it has made me a stronger human in terms of connecting with people.
TNR: You’re also a Bearcat, as you graduated from CCM’s musical theatre department last year. What's one thing that you took with you from school into this experience?
Harris: Always being ready. At CCM we would have assignments all the time. It would be like, “Tomorrow, we have to sing a song about love. The next day, you have to sing a song about family.” It was this constant thing of always needing to be prepared, and that was the main thing that being in school taught me; even in auditions.
TNR: So, how does it feel to know that you're coming back to Cincinnati a year later with “Dear Evan Hansen?”
Harris: Crazy. I didn't think I was going to end up in Cincinnati for four years. I didn’t even know about CCM until a friend of mine said, “You should apply to this program. It’s amazing.” Then I got accepted, and I thought, “Wow this is great. This is one of the oldest musical theatre programs in the country. Sure, I’ll go.” But four years ago, I never thought that I was going to spend time in Cincinnati.
When we were graduating, we all had this thought of “I don’t know when I’m ever going to come back here,” which is bittersweet … Coming back immediately after I graduated, I never thought that was gonna happen. I love getting to perform at the Aronoff. That’s going to be crazy too. I’m excited to go back to Adeep India — I tell everyone about Adeep India all the time. I just can’t wait to be there. It’s going to be so interesting, and very humbling, I’m sure.
TNR: How does this show and the roles that you understudy differ from the previous roles you have played at CCM or elsewhere? I saw you as Mary Magdalene in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” as well as “Sondheim on Sondheim,” so what makes this show different?
Harris: Something about CCM is that we don’t do plays, which is always something that I was kind of sad about, because I love acting. I love plays, and show is the perfect combination of a contemporary play and music. We have the same amount of singing as text, which is why it's so long. But that's also why it's so challenging and so amazing … You use both of those qualities just as much together, which I really, really love.
One of my favorite musicals is “Next to Normal,” because it has a real subject matter and a lot of conflict and a lot of great scene work … whereas “Jesus Christ Superstar” is a rock opera, which is awesome and has its own challenges of being able to act while you are singing the entire time. Then there’s “Sondheim on Sondheim,” which is more classical music and doesn’t really have a plot. It’s more like, “We're gonna sing these really beautiful pieces and try to make a story out of them.”
[“Dear Evan Hansen”] has the best of both worlds, which is why it was a dream show for me when I watched it online, because I thought, “This has so much acting, the songs are stellar. This is my kind of show. This is my bread and butter.”
TNR: Do you have any dream roles?
Harris: I would love, love, love to play Sarah in “Ragtime” at some point in my life. Then there’s Ti Moune in “Once on This Island.” I think I missed the boat on that, but maybe one day.
For more information about “Dear Evan Hansen,” click or tap here.