The Baltimore-Washington corridor holds a special place in the heart of Jason Michael Evans. In fact, the 31-year-old actor, who soon will make his local performance debut in the musical “Anastasia,” says he can’t wait to take center stage in Charm City.
“My father was born in Bowie, and his whole family still lives there,” says Evans, who remembers traveling to the area as a child for week-long family vacations every winter and summer. “Some of my family has never seen me perform, and I’m really excited for them to get to see what I do for a living.”
Evans plays Gen. Gleb Vaganov in the national touring production of the Broadway musical adaptation of “Anastasia,” which will run Dec. 4-9 at the Hippodrome Theatre.
For Evans, playing the role of Vaganov, who serves in the Bolshevik Army, is a challenging yet incredibly fulfilling experience.
“Gleb is a very conflicted character, and that is a fun journey to go on as an actor,” says Evans, who was active in the Reform movement’s North American Federation for Temple Youth while growing up in St. Louis: “What he believes in his head is right differs from what the regime he’s a part of thinks is right, and throughout the show he goes on this journey of figuring out those beliefs.
“I get to ride that wave and climb that mountain with Gleb every night,” says Evans. “But as a Jewish person, I have to ignore the fact that I know the regime my character is a part of will eventually be allied with Hitler, because I have to live in the moment of 1927 and believe what my character believes.”
“Anastasia” explores the journey of Russian grand duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna in discovering the mystery of her past after her family was killed by the Bolsheviks in July of 1918. Anastasia, who has amnesia and was said to be the lone survivor of the Romanov family, sets out to figure who she is and where she came from.
“This show has a lot of really positive messages that are important today,” says Evans. “There is a strong female lead who lives in a world of men but doesn’t allow them to tell her what to do. In fact, she changes every man she comes into contact with for the better. The audience gets to join her on this journey of figuring out who she is, while hearing beautiful music and seeing wonderful dancing and costumes that will blow your mind.”
Evans didn’t catch the acting bug until attending middle school, when he had to enroll in a music class and chose choir. Choir classes led to auditions for musicals, and in high school he decided performing was his life’s calling. He attended Missouri State University in Jefferson City to study acting, and moved to New York City six years ago.
While he has performed in many Big Apple shows and regional shows — including several performances of “Beauty and the Beast” — this production of “Anastasia” is Evans’ first large-scale production that travels from city to city in its entirety.
“Being a part of this show has been a trip,” Evans says of the show, which is set to visit 30 cities through next September. “The [cast members] are fantastic, and you couldn’t ask for a better family, which is what we become because we are spending every moment and every holiday together.”
Growing up in a family immersed in Judaism, Evans says being on the road can be challenging at times. But his Jewish upbringing “always sticks” with him.
“Culturally, being Jewish is the backbone of who I am,” says Evans, who attended preschool at the St. Louis Jewish Community Center and went to a Jewish summer camp called Camp Sabra in Rocky Mount, Mo. “A few weeks ago, I ran into a guy at the airport in Washington, D.C., who was my counselor at camp in 1999. I hadn’t seen him in almost 20 years, but he said he has already bought tickets to bring his kids to see ‘Anastasia’ when we are in St. Louis.
“It’s those connections to my Jewish upbringing that are really special moments for me.”
Alluding to a recent incident at the Hippodrome in which an apparently intoxicated theater-goer randomly yelled, “Heil Hitler, Heil Trump,” during a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof,” Evans says his philosophy is “instead of normalizing hate, we must normalize love and inclusion.”
“If you fight hate with hate, all you have done is multiply it,” he says. “The quelling of escalatory hatred and violence has to be done through peace and love. The only way to fight close-mindedness is with open-mindedness and to not be afraid to show whom you are. We have to acknowledge the terribleness in the world, but also try and look past it and bring in the good, which is what we are trying to do with the show ‘Anastasia.'”
For information about “Anastasia,” visit france-merrickpac.com.
Aliza Friedlander is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.