As Broadway pauses, Jordan Fisher of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ turns to songwriting and gaming
The first black actor to have the Broadway role full time just released a love song geared for the era of the coronavirus
He didn’t mean to, but Jordan Fisher may have given us an anthem for the era of the coronavirus, complete with music video.
He dropped the video for “Contact,” which he directed, on his YouTube channel March 12, one day after New York mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency, and theater owners and operators closed their doors. The video, ironically enough, illustrates lust in the absence of physical contact.
“It’s so funny. It’s obviously very timely,” Fisher said. “The idea is that when you’re around somebody who has an energy, whether or not it’s platonic or romantic, there are people you’re around that just bring you something, that give you something, some sort of energy that’s just palpable.”
Fisher’s star was especially ascendant at the beginning of 2020. Before releasing his newest single, Fisher, 25, became the first black actor to take on the title role full time in the Broadway production of Dear Evan Hansen (Roman Banks is the understudy for the characters Evan, Connor and Jared). Fisher plays a teen with crippling social anxiety who befriends a school bully, Connor. Connor kills himself and Evan, starved for connection, gets drawn into a web of lies he cannot sustain, essentially rehabilitating Connor’s image in death.
Fisher’s Evan is fragile and quick to cry. With every break in his voice comes sniffles of recognition and sympathy from the audience. You can get a sense of it from the performance he gave as part of a live Rosie O’Donnell show to raise money for The Actors Fund, in which Fisher sang “For Forever,” a song from the show.
Besides Evan Hansen, Fisher played a rival love interest in To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, the sequel to the Netflix teen hit To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Before his first leading role on Broadway, Fisher played John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in Hamilton.
His personal life was going well, too. He shared the video of his engagement to his longtime girlfriend, Ellie, whom he first met when he was a student at a theater conservatory in Birmingham, Alabama, where he grew up.
When New York theaters closed, a big part of Fisher’s life was put on hold. In the interim, he has shifted focus to songwriting and gaming. Fisher is especially enthusiastic about Overwatch, and his Twitch fans refer to themselves as the “Fish Fam.” Fisher has also been cast in Tick, Tick… Boom!, a musical directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, but a production timeline has not been announced.
I spoke with Fisher recently by phone in Los Angeles, where he was donning a mask and gloves for a trip to Walgreens. We talked about Broadway’s eventual reawakening and how he’s coping without the daily affirmation of sold-out, teary-eyed Dear Evan Hansen audiences.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
What have you been doing since returning to Los Angeles?
I’ve just been home. The time that I’ve been given in the last probably five years of my career to just be home and rest and create and just reset has been very minimal. Granted, it’s obviously a very odd time and very bittersweet. I miss the show, I miss just being on Broadway, I miss working, I miss seeing people, I miss being with my friends and just hanging.
I think this is a season of life that we’re living in right now, and we don’t know when it’s going to end, and we frankly have no control over that. But instead of just wallowing about it and wishing that I was at work, I keep myself busy. I stream on Twitch every day, I’m developing different projects and writing music and writing shows and the whole thing, and frankly, I’m able to just be in my house with my dog and my fiancee and just be home.
How does a person go from Birmingham to Broadway?
I spent the better part of my childhood there. I was there pretty much up until I was 13, and then from 13 to the age of 16, I was pretty much spending two months there, two months in LA, two months there, two months in LA. Then at some time around my 16th year, I moved to LA permanently.
I owe a lot of my journey to my theater conservatory that I grew up in Birmingham. Actually, where I met my fiancee, funnily enough. We grew up in the same theater conservatory together, called Red Mountain Theatre Company. That’s where I learned everything that I know.
Then I didn’t go to [college] for art. I was pre-med for a couple of years, but that was really just a backup plan while I was working. I started working very young. I was doing this for 16 years, and my trajectory has been a very good, slow burn, but I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for the time that it’s taken for things to really start moving and functioning on their own, because my appreciation for it is significantly higher, I suppose.
I did my stint in Hamilton, and currently still doing my run for Dear Evan Hansen, and Broadway is, to be perfectly honest with you, my favorite thing to do. There are a lot of actors actually that will say the same thing. I think it was Denzel [Washington] that said he’d be in film, and it pays the bills, but Broadway pays the soul. There’s something so unique and electric about being on a Broadway stage.
Granted, I love film and television. I love creating it, I love doing it. It’s so great, especially when it’s in LA. I get to be home. I get to go into my house, my bed, not some corporate housing or apartment or hotel somewhere. So that’s really nice, to be able to drive my car and go to my work and be able to go home after that. There’s definitely something about that that I love. I also just have a lot of passion for the city of Los Angeles. To be perfectly honest with you, as much as I love New York, I wish that Broadway was in LA.
What was your favorite musical when you were growing up?
The very first show I ever did was Schoolhouse Rock!, and then I’ve done Music Man five or six times in my life. I love that musical so much. I’m so excited for the revival with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. It’s going to be so great.
What was it that you liked so much about The Music Man?
It’s so ahead of its time. I think the musical went into development in the mid-’50s, something along those lines. There’s rap in this show, there’s gospel in this show, there’s barbershop quartets and Sondheim-inspired ballads. It’s just a stunning show to be in. Harold Hill is such a likable dislikable character, and I think there’s a lot of nuance to him, and literally, Hugh Jackman is such a likable actor. I’m really, really curious to see his take on Harold Hill. I think he’s going to be fantastic.
Once on This Island and Come From Away, Hamilton, The Band’s Visit, Hadestown — that’s my jam for real, but there are some classic musicals that I do love. I’m really not a fan of Cats, I’m not a fan of The Phantom of the Opera, I’m not a fan of Les Mis. Beautiful work, beautiful material. I’m not saying that it’s not a fantastic show, because I do get it, and I understand why it’s so loved and beloved. There’s zero hate on it by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just not my cup of tea. Think about the amount of people that really only came to love theater because of Hamilton. It’s incredible to me, the reach is incredible. And then shows like Six and Hadestown and Evan Hansen bringing people to Broadway and educating people on what this is.
You have fans who watch your Twitch streams who have come to Dear Evan Hansen.
That’s one of the coolest things for me, honestly. There was this crew, my fans call themselves the ‘Fish Fam,’ and I love that. I love it, because I’m very family-oriented anyway. I have the word ‘ohana’ written on my collarbone in a tattoo, and I have the word ‘family’ tattooed on my shoulder, so the fact that they call themselves the ‘Fish Fam’ is pretty awesome.
There are these five girls, and they have been ride-or-dies, but all for different reasons. One of them’s based in New York, one of them’s in Oklahoma, the other one’s in California, one’s in Washington state, one’s in Texas, and these five girls all met somehow. Two of them were fans of mine from back in the day, like Secret Life of the American Teenager back in the day. One of them became a fan of mine because of music. One of them was a fan of mine from Broadway, and one of them was a fan of mine strictly from Twitch, from gaming. But five of these girls all came together, became best friends and all made a trip happen to New York where they could all be together, seeing each other, and all come to see me doing the show. To me, I’m like, ‘these are all these worlds that I’m hoping and trying my best to tether.’ Gaming to Broadway to music to television to film. It’s all entertainment, and I love all of it equally. So to know that these gaps can be bridged, is really, really special to me. I’m very grateful for that.
When I saw you as Evan, my first thought was how much you and Brian Stokes Mitchell should play father and son in something. If you guys announced that you were somehow long-lost relatives, I would be like, ‘yeah, that makes sense.’
That would be — listen, we’re talking about Broadway royalty here. I mean, this man, everyone worships the ground he walks on. He’s so stupidly talented. There’s a thing going around for a while, actually. It’s about the idea of Brian Stokes Mitchell playing the father of myself and Justin Guarini. Justin and I play brothers, and Brian being our dad in something. I don’t know what that could be or what that would be. I’d probably have to write it and create it and develop it myself. But, man, the idea of the three of us, being on a stage, three mixed men on a stage together just singing our a–es off sounds so fun to me.
I feel like I can hear you smiling through the phone.
That would just be awesome. You have to understand, I miss it. It was very abruptly taken away from me. Obviously just for the time being, and the lights will turn back on and it’s going to be beautiful when the energy of every theater on Broadway, that very first night that all the lights turn back on again, whenever that happens. Those 12 blocks are going to experience something so magical, something so beautiful, and I can’t wait for that.
There are people in shows on Broadway that have been doing the same show every night, eight shows a week, for 20-something years. Some of the cast members of Lion King, some of the cast members in Chicago, there’s some Wicked cast members that have been there for eight, nine, 10 years.
When we all get back up and are doing the thing and rehearsals are over … every show’s going to have an opening night, for shows that have been there forever and ever, they’re going to have an opening night. The energy of the cast members on those stages, people in the audiences, I just can’t even imagine how molecularly exciting it’s going to be. It’ll be next-level. Broadway’s going to experience something unprecedented that night, and that’s what I keep reminding myself and reminding all of my friends.