Rachel Bay Jones is Boca Raton’s very own Great White Way success story.
The actor, who attended Spanish River Community High School and met her husband while performing for Boca’s now-defunct Caldwell Theatre Company, won a Tony Award last year for her role in the Broadway smash “Dear Evan Hansen.” Now, Jones is back, if only for one night, in “The Broadway Concert Series Hosted by Seth Rudetsky” Friday, Feb. 16 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.
In “Dear Evan Hansen,” Jones plays Heidi, the single, overworked mother of Evan Hansen. She originated the role in 2015, when the musical (which won six Tonys) premiered in Washington, D.C. In the show, the titular character is a high school senior with a social-anxiety disorder who deals with the death of a classmate by telling a lie, which inadvertently leads to him connecting to others.
Her other Broadway credits include “Hair,” “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and “Pippin.” On March 7, she will appear in an episode of TV’s “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” according to IMDB.com.
Jones spoke to us for a few minutes during a very busy Wednesday afternoon. She had just come offstage from a matinee performance of “Dear Evan Hansen” and was running to a few auditions for the current television-pilot season before returning to the Music Box Theatre for the evening performance of “Dear Evan Hansen.” She says she’s looking forward to taking a breather in South Florida.
“I want to stay forever,” Jones says. “I miss it so much. I’m flying in very early Friday morning, so the first thing I’d like to do is take a nap, maybe on a beach. I hope it’s a sunny day. I’d like to be outside and maybe take a nap by a pool. And I’d like to see a sunset, because we don’t get that here. I don’t see sunsets. I miss that big sky in Florida, that big, open sky.”
Here are excerpts from our interview with Jones.
So I’ve got to ask: Where do you keep your Tony Award? Where is it right now?
Well, it’s a funny story, because when I first got it, I thought I needed to upgrade my bookshelves. I kind of had a Ikea/Craigslist bookshelf. I began thinking I need to get my stuff together and get an adult bookshelf. So I got new bookshelves in the living room. I couldn’t bring myself to put it on the top shelf, so it’s like, “Welcome to my home, and here’s my Tony.” I kind of wanted to put it at waist level.
Are there songs that you think Seth will insist that you do?
I know there are songs that he feels I have to do, and there are some I want to do. Hopefully, they will be some of the same songs. What is most fun and exciting about Seth is he springs stuff on you. He remembers stories about you that you don’t remember. And he happens to have a stack of music, and you better bring your glasses or hundreds of people at Parker Playhouse will pay the price. I know he wants to hear some songs that I’ve done working in South Florida.
Your parents were classical actors, so what were you like growing up in Boca and attending Spanish River High School? Were you a total theater geek or were you a beach girl?
You know, it’s funny, I’ve got different memories from the people I knew then, and everyone in my life from that time has different memories from each other. My theater friends thought I was totally immersed in theater, and my nontheater friends went to the mall and the beach with me. I was into nature. Early on, I was never sure [theater] was what I wanted to really do. It took the better part of my 20s and 30s to own up to being an actor. I really love camping and the Everglades, the mosquitoes and alligators. And I was also really in love with the theater.
And you met your husband, the actor Benim Foster, doing theater here in South Florida, right?
Yes. We did a production of “Modern Orthodox” at the Caldwell.
And now, you both have a teenage daughter named Miranda. So her grandparents were actors. Her parents are actors. Is there any chance she won’t be an actor?
I’m really trying hard to steer her away from this. One thing that I’ve got going for me is that she would be a great lawyer. She argues very well. She’s also a beautiful fine artist
What is it about “Dear Evan Hansen” that you think resonates so much with people?
A lot of musicals have a purpose to take you away, to escape. There’s a lot of spectacle and entertainment value, which is a way to another world, like a fairy tale. What’s so beautiful about “Dear Evan Hansen” is that it’s very grounded in reality. And the music seeks to deepen and elevate the emotional life of the show rather than take you away. You find yourself deeper in. It goes deeper. It shows us our lives. It shows us who we are. And it connects us. It’s all about being seen, how we all feel isolated, how we feel alone, the things we do to connect and how we don’t see each other sometimes. One of the most beautiful things it explores is forgiveness.
You’ve been with the show since the first reading back in 2014. So what still gets you every night, every day. You just did a matinee, and in a few hours you have an evening performance. So what got to you today and you know will affect you deeply tonight, even after all this time?
I sing a song towards the end of the show, “So Big, So Small.” I’m telling my child I’m always going to be there for him, no matter what. And something in that song catches me on a deep, deep level every night. But it’s the idea I’m singing about in the moment. I am looking back, [and] I realize I failed in so many different ways. And there’s an acceptance about that, grief about that that every parent can relate to. We’re never the parents we thought we would be or wanted to be.
Did it happen the way you said it did in your Tony acceptance speech: Did your grandmother really sell her engagement ring so you could move to New York and pursue your career in theater?
Yes, it [did]. It really [did]. Isn’t that crazy? And my grandmother never told me that she had done that. And my mother certainly never told me until a few years ago. I was like, “Come on, there had to be something else.” But maybe it wasn’t that. Maybe she wasn’t that attached to it. Maybe there were other things that she held more dear, you know? I keep exploring these ideas of motherhood and all these things. I get it now. I would have an understanding, of course, but now I understand it on a different level.