Even though Gaten Matarazzo ventured into the Upside Down six years ago, he is still a theatre kid at heart: he roots for understudies, rushes to get to the theatre on time, and stans musicals that leave him feeling sentimental.
He still thinks about the way Dear Evan Hansen affected him when he first saw it with the original Broadway cast, led by Ben Platt—who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of the title character. "Throughout Act I, I had this sinking feeling in my chest. I sunk into my chair. I didn’t know what it was until after the show when I realized I was having a genuine anxiety attack." Following this experience, Matarazzo fell head first into the show, listening to the cast recording on repeat and becoming “borderline obsessed.”
So it was a dream come true for Matarazzo to be offered the opportunity to take over the role of Jared Kleinman in the musical, which he did beginning July 19. "He's a pretty damaged dude and he handles it in horrible ways, as many do," says Matarazzo of the role. "He closes himself off from his own anxieties and from the world around him by convincing himself that he's confident. He uses his relationship with Evan to establish a power dynamic."
The actor adds, "His journey throughout the show is pretty interesting to me, as Evan starts to gain confidence under these horrible circumstances, Jared spends the rest of the show trying to reel Evan back, not for Evan’s sake, but for his own."
While starring in the show feels like a long-awaited culmination, that doesn’t mean it was like riding a bike. Matarazzo recalls feeling "anxious" all the time. He says, "I wake up with a sore throat and I’m like, 'Oh, my God, it's over.'"
"When I was younger, I never had to do eight shows a week because child labor laws require actors under 16 [years old] to have an alternate and do four shows a week, instead of eight," he says, recalling his days as a child actor on Broadway in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Les Misérables. "This will be the first time in which I do every show in a week. Vocally, it’s different from what I usually do, and it’s more challenging. I have spent a good couple of months trying to expand my range and get my stamina back."
Matarazzo is ready to retrain himself for the stage following his long run in the Netflix hit series Stranger Things. "I was able to use a lot of what I learned from theatre in film and television, but it really is a whole different ballgame. I’m reteaching myself to break out and physically remember that I’m on a stage. and there are a bunch of different necessities."
He continues, "Influences from screen are finding themselves on stage, and vice versa. It's a cool time and cool age to be on stage again."