NEW YORK (WABC) -- When I first saw "Dear Evan Hansen" on Broadway two years ago, I wrote, "Rarely, if ever, have adolescent feelings of isolation insecurity been so brilliantly explored -- or so beautifully expressed -- on stage."
And that's even truer now that Evan is played by a 16-year-old.
It's been called one of toughest roles on Broadway to sing, as Evan Hansen calls upon an actor to display a full range of emotions -- which is one reason why this teen character has been played by guys in their 20s...until now.
"Yeah, it's scary," Andrew Barth Feldman said. "There are big shoes for me to fill, but I'm just trying to fill them in my own way."
Feldman grew up in Woodmere on Long Island, where he began acting at the age of 8.
"I just didn't stop," he said. "And I would do five shows at a time in different community theaters around the Tri-State Area."
Last spring, he placed first at the Jimmy Awards, a competition for the nation's best high school performers.
"Dear Evan Hansen" producer Stacey Mindich saw Andrew there.
"And it was like a kick in the stomach," she said. "I just thought, 'Oh my goodness, there's our next Evan.'"
And that is how a multi-million-dollar production came to rest on the slender shoulders of a high school junior. Sitting in his dressing room, I asked him, "How do you deal with the pressure?"
"It's hard," he said. "It's really hard."
Luckily, he has plenty of help. Mallory Bechtel, who plays opposite Andrew, is a teenager too -- less than a year past her high school graduation.
Like Andrew, this is her Broadway debut, which she says helps make the show more real.
"There's a sense of that with Evan, he's having all these experiences for the first time in his life," she said.
And any anxieties they may feel are used to fuel their performances.
"Seeing a kid playing a kid, it makes it easier to believe," Andrew said.
I think that makes the entire musical even more moving.
"Dear Evan Hansen," with its original cast, won the Tony Award as Best Musical, but this version rings even more true to me. It's the perfect show for young people, because it speaks so directly to them -- even more directly now.
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Teen stars make Broadway's 'Dear Evan Hansen' resonate even more
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