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With ‘Dear Evan Hansen’s’ inaugural visit to Fresno, a fresh look at the power and perils of social media

When you’re pursuing a BFA in musical theater, the competition can be fierce for good roles when you’re auditioning for the college musical. If you nab a great part, it can certainly bolster your reputation on campus.

Then there’s Jeffrey Cornelius, 19, a junior at the the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. When he attends an acting class or theater history class these days, say, as part of his degree program, he isn’t sitting in a classroom. Instead he’s Zooming in from the theater district in a big American city. Depending on the day, he very well could be playing the title role in the national tour of “Dear Evan Hansen.”


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Now those are bragging rights.

But he isn’t the kind to gloat, he says. His BFA program includes so many accomplished performers that covering a leading role on a big Broadway tour – which means he fills in at least two times a week – is no big deal to his classmates.

“Everybody in this school is so superhumanly, like, ridiculously, talented,” he says in a phone interview promoting the Fresno stop on the “Dear Evan Hansen” tour. (It opens Tuesday, Jan. 10, and runs through Jan. 15.) “There are people in my class who can dance circles around me. There are people who can act circles around me.”

In terms of an actor getting a career break, “sometimes it’s just a person’s time — and everybody has different timing.”

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Micaela Lamas, who’s also in the Fresno-bound “Evan Hansen,” agrees. She’s on the same line for the phone interview.

“It’s all about following your path and knowing not to compare yourself to others,” says Lamas, 23. She plays the role of Alaina, Evan’s overachieving friend.

The Texas State University graduate moved to New York several years ago with other students from the same class.

Like Cornelius, this is her first big tour, and she’s reveling in the chance to travel with such a popular show. (Plus, she doesn’t have any homework, unlike Cornelius, so she’s got some more free time.)

Lamas and Cornelius both started rehearsing the show in early June in New York. They opened in Boise later that month.

Lamas is particularly looking forward to the tour stopping in Fresno because she has family and friends here.

“My family used to live there, but they moved back to Texas before I was born,” she says.

Aunts and uncles will be in the audience, and her mom will make the trip to see the show.

The show opened on Broadway in 2015. (Yours truly was actually in the very first preview audience at the Music Box Theatre, which I’d like to say was because of fortuitous foresight but really was because it was the only show I could find to see in New York on a Monday night.)

When the show opened it was considered so topically vibrant and social-media sophisticated that as an older audience member, I practically felt the need to pass a tech-literacy test just to get into the theater. For 2015, the show’s visuals were cutting edge both aesthetically and sociologically, with a bevy of screens, projections and ticker-tape-style scrolling images capturing the clatter and clamor of our overloaded and overstimulated online environment.

The musical also seemed to fit in perfectly with a pre-Covid Age of Overconnectedness, in which there seemed to be no limit to the ways that the internet could bind, strengthen and harm us.

Some of that so-relevant-it-hurts fervor seems to have receded seven years later, and the musical’s plot — which is essentially a troubled teen constructing an online fake life story of an even more troubled teen — has been critiqued for glamorizing the rewriting of someone else’s history.

Cornelius and Lamas still see the show as being applicable as the day it came out.

“I think the reason this show will continue to be so relevant is because social media isn’t going anywhere,” Lamas says.

And the show’s focus on mental health is even more important today, she adds.

“I feel like people will leave having tough conversations that they’ve never really considered, especially families,” she says.

Cornelius agrees.

“I think the best way I can sum it up is the show is for the outsider in all of us,” he says.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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