Roman Banks ’21 made history on Wednesday, Dec. 12, when he became the first person of color to play the title role in the Tony-winning musical “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway.
Banks won a place in the Broadway company of the musical over the summer, and is understudy for the parts of Evan Hansen, Jared Kleinman and Connor Murphy. Read more about Banks’ path to the musical at su.edu.
Shenandoah Director of Musical Theatre, Associate Professor of Voice and Voice Pedagogy and Artistic Director of the CCM Voice Pedagogy Institute Matt Edwards ’15, D.M.A., was on hand to see the performance at the Music Box Theatre in New York City, as was Assistant Professor of Theatre, Coordinator for Recruitment for Musical Theatre, and Charles B. Levitin Chair in Musical Theatre Kevin Covert.
“Roman had an outstanding debut,” Dr. Edwards said. “From the moment the curtain went up, there was incredible energy in the theatre, the audience loved his work, and numerous online comments showed how important this debut was for people of color in the musical theatre community.”
The show had an additional Shenandoah twist: alumna Garrett Elise Long ’91, who has been a standby performer for the roles of Cynthia Murphy and Heidi Hansen for the show’s entire run, portrayed Murphy in the performance.
“What a wonderful afternoon in the theatre watching history being made,” Covert said. “A proud moment for Shenandoah musical theatre, but an even more important step for Broadway in terms of diversity and inclusion. The national profile of our musical theatre program has grown immensely in the past three years thanks to students like Roman, and the hard work of our faculty. I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the afternoon after watching his beautiful performance, and the performance of fellow Shenandoah alum Garrett Elise Long. I look forward to many more trips to Broadway to watch our students shine.”
Watch as Banks takes his bows at the performance:
Banks talked about the experience with OnStageblog in a Dec. 18 post:
Once I’m on stage, it’s not about me, or the moment, or what everyone is saying online. It’s about telling the story as honestly as I can and giving everything I have to the character. It always helps to remember that there are people in the audience whose first time experiencing the show will be with you in it. Once the show had ended, however, it was so nice to see the community’s response to what had happened. Playing Evan was really special not only to me, but to so many people, especially people of color. Ultimately, the more people who can see themselves on the stage and connect to this powerful story, including in a literal sense, the better.