B Y - A L E X - C R E V A R
When Rob Evan sang "Thanks for the Memories" at Vince Dooley's farewell gala as head coach, the Georgia kicker brought the house down. He's now doing the same thing on Broadway.
Above: Evan at Vice Dooley's farewell gala.
Top of page: Evan metamorphosed from Jekyll to Hyde in 1,000 performances, redefining the role.
A standout high school athlete from Monticello, Ga., Evan (BBA '90) came to UGA in 1985 to study finance. He walked on the football team in 1986 as a kicker, but found himself vying for playing time with the likes of Steve Crumley and John Kasay, whose names are all over the Bulldog record books. Evan's focus on athletics was one reason he never took any drama courses, or sang in the glee club, or acted in any UGA theater productions. Not exactly the prescribed method for making it to The Great White Way, but Evan had one very powerful thing going for him: a voice that can raise the roof.
"I didn't sing or act at all at Georgia; there was little time," Evan recalls over lunch at the Bluebird Cafe in Athens prior to his one-man show at the Classic Center last November. "If you were committed to playing football at an SEC school, you had to make it a year-round, around-the-clock job. My interest in theater didn't really start until I was asked to sing 'Thanks for the Memories' at Vince Dooley's farewell gala as head coach at the Coliseum back in '89."
When Evan finished the old Bob Hope number, the crowd roared its approval. "It was a surprise," says Evan, "and it gave me a real confidence boost."
After graduation, he moved to Atlanta to work as an account rep for General Electric. But like his sister, who is a U.S. attorney, he had his sights set on a law career. On a lark, and because it sounded like a high-class evening out, he took a date to Atlanta's Fox Theatre to see "Les Misérables."
"I could barely even say 'Les Misérables,' much less know what the thing was about . . . I was just a jock," Evan recalls. "I walked into the Fox not knowing what I was going to see."
When the show began, Evan was moved almost immediately to tears:
"I walked out of there changed," he says. "I knew I could sing, so I thought to myself, Okay, I've got this talent and now I have to do something with it."
Without telling Evan, a friend entered an audio tape of him singing one of the most dramatic and difficult "Les Misérables" songs, "Bring Him Home," in a Georgia Music Hall of Fame talent contest. Evan's tape was judged the best out of several hundred entries. At the awards ceremony, Albert Coleman, conductor of the Atlanta Pops, took Evan aside and asked him to perform with the Pops as their Broadway singer, in front of a 75-piece orchestra.
Evan says tension kept him from becoming a great college kicker, but he now thrives on the pressures of performing on Broadway.
started thinking about nothing but singing and theater," says Evan. "I started acting in community productions, landing lead roles every time I walked into an audition, and building connections in Atlanta."
In the course of a few months, Evan would appear at the Fox in "South Pacific," play the lead in "Brigadoon," tour 90 cities with "By George!" play Jesus in "Jesus Christ Superstar," perform with Madeline Kahn in "Hello, Dolly!" and star in his own musical review aboard a Norwegian cruise ship. The cruise ship proved to be the most momentous gig because it's where he met his future wife, Beate, a Norwegian who worked on the ship as a stewardess. They moved to New York and wagered everything on Rob making it on Broadway.
"Moving to New York on virtually no money was scary, but we didn't care," he recalls. "It was that time in life when you throw caution to the wind. You don't care who you owe or how hard things get because you're young and in love."
Evan's big break came in Nashville, of all places, where he dyed his hair shoe-polish black and waited 10 hours to sing 16 bars at an open audition for "Les Misérables." Nothing came of it right away, but the New York casting directors liked what they heard and told him to stay in touch. "That was another huge shot in the arm," he recalls, "and after just three months in New York I landed an ensemble role with the 'Les Misérables' touring company."
Five contracts later, he auditioned for the lead in "Les Mis" on Broadway. The show's producers wanted him for the role of Jean Valjean, but Evan wasn't sure he was ready to play a father.
"And then our first son, Johan, was born," Evan recalls. "It gave me the emotional strength I needed to really make the part work. After that, I started to feel theater magic. I could feel the audience breathing with me and the energy buzzing between us."
Following his success with "Les Mis," Evan cemented his reputation as one of Broadway's up and coming leading men by landing the starring role in "Jekyll & Hyde." Evan played the rolewhich he calls "the hardest part ever written for a guy"for 1,000 performances.
"It's a show with big songs about a character with a drug addictionand it took its toll on my body," says Evan, explaining why he ended his first run with the show. "I would come home with my neck sore like I had whiplash. It's not an ensemble piece like 'Les Mis.' The guy who plays Jekyll-Hyde has got to be Herculean."
Linda Russak, who landed a job as Evan's personal assistant after seeing him perform in "Jekyll & Hyde" 497 times, lauds him as a performer and as a person.
"He doesn't like to be praised and goes out of his way for charities like the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Leukemia Society," says Russack. "He's incredibly generous with his time."
atching Evan on stage with his 10-piece band at the Classic Center last November, it was easy to see why he has enjoyed so much success in a very competitive business. He sang "Bring Him Home" from "Les Mis" and the "Jekyll & Hyde" show-stopper "This Is the Moment," and he gave the show a night-clubby feel by telling stories between songs.
"Everybody here is witnessing something specialand a whole lot of talent," said Evan's old coach, Vince Dooley, who was in the audience with wife Barbara. "And anyone who's not here is going to hear about it."
Evan fronted a 10-piece band at his homecoming show in November at Athens' Classic Center.
Evan finished the evening appropriately with "Georgia On My Mind," which pleased both his mother, who still lives in Monticello, and his former kicking coach at UGA, Bill Hartman.
"After the show, Rob's mama came up to me and said, 'Coach, you said he wasn't going to be a great kicker, but he sure can sing, can't he!'" says Hartman. "He never got a whole lot of playing time when he was here, but I figure warming up in front of 85,000 people helped him to be ready for Broadway."
"A lot of what kept me from becoming a great football player was tension," says Evan. "I could kick the ball a mile in practice, but in a scrimmage I would tense up. Performing has cured me of that. Now I thrive on pressure."
Evan recently returned to "Jekyll & Hyde" on a part-time basis, playing just the Wednesday and Saturday matinees. The reduced schedule gave him time to concentrate on finishing a solo album, "Moment," and to perform on the Today Show. "Jekyll & Hyde" closed in Januaryafter 1,543 performancesand Evan hopes his next move will be to the big screen.
"It's no bigger jump than going from football to Broadway," he says. "It's like what I tell people who ask advice about getting into show business. I say, 'If you can do anything else in the world, do it. But if it's in your heart and you're 100 percent committed, don't let anybody convince you that you can't do it.'"
Evan reminded the home folks what they're missing with a stirring rendition of the national anthem before last fall's Ole Miss game.