Dear Evan Hansen casts new star discovered on TikTok

By Riyah Collins, Jasmine Sandhar, BBC Newsbeat

grey placeholderMelanie Gail Photography Sonny Monaghan. Sonny's a young man with dark curly hair and brown eyes. He smiles at the camera, wearing a blue and green striped polo shirt. Melanie Gail Photography

Sonny Monaghan shared his audition on TikTok, where it was viewed thousands of times

Early this year, thousands of people posted videos of themselves singing on TikTok, hoping it could mark the start of their big break.

And, for one of them, it did.

In January producers of a UK version of Broadway sensation Dear Evan Hansen launched a nationwide hunt for undiscovered talent ahead of a tour later this year.

The multi award-winning musical, which first opened in 2016, follows Evan as he goes viral.

So it’s possibly not a surprise for that to be a key part of the auditioning process.

Director Adam Penford launched the search with – of course – a video saying his team was looking for the “next generation of talent”.

Hopeful actors uploaded audition tapes of themselves singing You Will Be Found – a pivotal song from the play – in the hope of bagging a real-life audition.

Producers say fewer than 2% of the 2,000 who applied were invited to audition.

From that final 36, Sonny Monaghan was the chosen one and was recently revealed as the understudy for the lead role.

Sonny, from East Sussex, tells BBC Newsbeat there was no way he’d have missed the opportunity.

“Evan’s a role I’ve always wanted to play since I started doing musical theatre,” he says.

grey placeholderGetty Images Adverts for Dear Evan Hansen outside the  Noel Coward Theatre on St. Martin's Lane in Theatreland, London.Getty Images

A new version of the Broadway hit Dear Evan Hansen is due to tour the UK later this year

His final video took 11 takes.

“I just had to make sure that what I put up was at a high enough standard for myself to be like, ‘yeah, that’s more than good enough to get seen’,” says Sonny.

He’ll be understudy for former Book of Mormon and Newsies star Ryan Kopel, who plays the lead role of Evan.

While Sonny hasn’t been to drama school, he did study musical theatre at college and has also had professional acting roles before. He also has an agent.

“I wasn’t getting seen for the show,” he says. “And I knew I was right for it.”

While he was hoping his agent would help him get in the room, he says the TikTok auditions gave him a chance to take more control of that process.

There’s been some criticism of producers for only casting one person found via TikTok, and when the call originally went out some branded it as exploitative and a publicity gimmick.

“I understand the viewpoint,” says Sonny. “Like, ‘this must have just been some huge marketing thing’.

“It obviously had that element to it anyway. We knew it.”

grey placeholderAdam Penford Adam Penford. Adam is a white man in his 40s with short blonde hair and blue eyes. He has a short stubble and wears a denim shirt.Adam Penford

Director Adam Penford has insisted the TikTok auditions were designed to give more people a chance

Director Adam Penford previously told Newsbeat the production team’s goal was “to democratise the process” and give those without a drama school background or an agent a chance to be seen.

“If there’s somebody who we feel could be in with a chance for performing in the show, they’ll be invited to join the professional auditions,” he said.

The production company did also use traditional casting methods for professional actors, and says it was open about this from the start.

But it insisted that “every single person stood a chance of being cast, with or without an agent”.

“There were definitely those who recorded who were not suitable for the parts on offer but rightly saw it as an opportunity to be seen by a professional casting team,” a spokesperson said.

grey placeholderThomas Fage Thomas Fage is a 19-year-old white man with blue eyes and curly dirty blonde hair. He wears round black-rimmed glasses and smiles at the camera. Thomas Fage

Thomas Fage was invited to audition alongside professional actors after casting directors saw his TikTok

For actors like 19-year-old Thomas Fage, from Birmingham, there are no hard feelings.

After posting his audition on TikTok, he was one of the 36 people invited to audition again in person but didn’t end up making it through.

“The fact they’ve given people like me and people who just happened to post a video on TikTok the opportunity to even audition and be in the room with real producers or real directors is incredible,” he says.

It was University of Chester student Thomas’s first professional audition – he doesn’t have an agent and at the time told Newsbeat even getting that far had been “beyond [his] wildest dreams”.

As he reflects on the casting announcement a few months down the line, he says: “The advertisement they put out never stated that it’d be guaranteed a role.

“It’s giving people like us opportunities that we wouldn’t normally get. And for that, I’m completely grateful.”

Producers say they were “genuinely thrilled” by how many people auditioned on TikTok and that there was “so much talent on show”.

Would they cast this way again?

“For the right project, we’d absolutely consider using TikTok again as a way to discover new talent,” a spokesperson says.

“Asking for TikTok submissions feels considerably more accessible to many.”

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