When it comes to favorite scenes from Broadway musicals, it’s hard to beat Meredith Willson’s iconic “76 Trombones” and “Marian the Librarian” from “The Music Man”.
These two song and dance numbers are also favorites of Mitchell Douglas Evans, who graduated from Litchfield High School in 2015. The difference between him and us is that he’s actually on stage and performs those stages for eight performances per week as a member of the musical ensemble at Chanhassen Dinner Theaters.
Evans, who goes by the stage name Mitchell Douglas, joined the cast on August 17. He’s part of what the cast is calling “Music Man 2.0,” which is the show reopened in 2021. The original production, which began airing on the main stage on March 6, 2020, is known as “Music Man 1.0 “. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was closed on March 13, seven days after launch. It kicked off its second round over the weekend of July 4, 2021 and will run through January 22.
Evans replaced a member of the company who had graduated from high school and was continuing his theater studies. By mid-November, Evans had put on his 90th show.
When it comes to favorite scenes, Evans said he prefers Chanhassen’s “76 Trombones” because the actors can act and joke on stage.
“It’s just my favorite dance number where I can be very temperamental in my performance,” he said. “I love ‘Marian The Librarian’ because it’s just my favorite song on the show and has been described as having the most Disney-esque blocking, and it sounds like that, too.”
While stage work is what Evans does for a living, it’s not exactly the 24-year-old’s job.
“It really is the most fun experience I have ever had,” he said. “The whole reach of it is just amazing. We come to work. It’s work, but fun work. Coming up with all of these amazing people, their own talent, things you might not think of. Really, it’s so much fun. Every day there is something new, new nuances. We laugh and enjoy every second.
Evans grew up on a farm north of Litchfield, the third of four boys in Tom and Lisa Cox’s family. He started performing on stage in eighth grade, but said he “sang and danced throughout life since I could walk and talk!”
“Being a little theater kid can be tricky in a small town like Litchfield,” he said. “They see this light and this passion and have been a great support.”
Evans’ first role on stage was playing one of Lollipop’s children in a production of “The Wizard of Oz”.
“Our choir director was helping out and he recruited a group of altar boys to be munchkins,” he said. “It started from there.”
He continued with the Litchfield High School fall musicals as his love of singing turned into a passion. It was a high school trip to New York City that prompted Evans to consider a career on stage. During the trip, the students attended a workshop featuring the actors of the Broadway play “Wicked”.
“We sang one of the opening songs,” he recalls. “Subsequently, one of the accompanists asked me if I had considered (a career) in musical theater, singing? I laughed about it and moved on. That night we saw ‘Wicked’ – the way the orchestra played, the opening streak is powerful, a thrilling spectacle. Our seats were on the balcony and although everyone on stage was the size of an ant, when the orchestra played the overture, my heart just changed. That was it for me. It was going to be my life. It was so magical.
One of the highlights of these years was attending a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Chanhassen. A friend of his grandmother’s won two tickets on the radio. She gave them to Evans’ grandmother and told her to take her. The experience was a dream moment for the young actor.
Faced with his high school diploma in 2015, it was time for Evans to think about college. He admitted he hadn’t prepared for a lot of opportunities. Fortunately, two schools in Minnesota had excellent theater departments: Minnesota State University at Mankato and the University of Minnesota at Duluth.
“In the end, I got accepted into Mankato,” he said. “It was a blessing in disguise. In four years, I made 23 productions and it’s unheard of. It was crazy.”
After graduating from college in 2019 with a degree in musical theater and a minor in dance, Evans found work. He was lucky enough to be hired right away by a small theater company in Minneapolis. It was the first off-Broadway company to produce “Night of the Living Dead: The Musical”. He was chosen for the lead role.
“After that I booked my dream with a cruise line,” he said. “I closed the show on a Sunday, stayed one night with my parents, and then I flew to Florida. Everything was fine before the pandemic. We spent three months at sea before we all came home.
Evans was hired as a playlist dancer with Carnival Cruise Lines. He described the rehearsals of five 40-minute shows as the “most intense process.”
“Nothing I had done prepared me for it,” he said. “It was crazy. We rehearsed in a seedy little town 45 miles from Miami. It was in a big warehouse where they have state-of-the-art rehearsal studios. We had to learn five shows. I was hired as a dancer. When I lived in Litchfield the boys didn’t have a lot of opportunities to dance so I didn’t have any training until I went to Mankato.
During his tenure at sea, Evans was part of an eight-person ensemble that put on high-energy shows featuring a variety of music.
“We were a tight-knit little group,” he recalls. “Ship life, what more than waking up and stepping on deck and seeing the sun rise and set over this vast ocean? There is nothing that beats it. The trip was amazing. It was the clearest blue ocean, the white sand beaches, and sometimes lonely, calm and claustrophobic. Your life is constant repetition. Because we were on a cruise ship, we didn’t understand what was going on with the pandemic. We have to pay for the internet on board the ship so we save money by not using it.
Next thing Evans said they knew, people were arguing over toilet paper at Walmart. They wondered, “What’s going on?
“We were three months away and our ship was going to dry dock for construction,” he said. “They gave us the opportunity to go home for three weeks. When we hit the ground, the gravity of what was happening hit us. Our cast was from all over the world. After the second week of vacation, the governor shut down the state. It was all in limbo. Then it was a year and a half of nothing.
Once Evans realized that cruise ships weren’t an opportunity for him for a while, he packed his bags and moved to St. Paul. He lived near the University of St. Thomas, where he found work at a variety of jobs including an animal welfare company, waiting tables, and a call center.
“This summer, the theater started to come back to life in the region,” he said. “It was in July when I did my first production in a year and a half. ‘Mamma Mia’ is such a fun show. It was at the Zephyr in Stillwater. They had a really powerful talent. I played ( lead male) Sky. It was such an amazing opportunity. … Being back to doing what we were doing, the first day in the room, there was nothing like it. We were overwhelmed by to be in our world again It didn’t stop from there.
It was a few weeks later that Evans made his debut at Chanhassen Dinner Theaters. His dream theater.
“We’re at Broadway level, but a more accessible community,” he said. “You don’t have to go to New York to see an incredible spectacle. The casting starts the show and that’s exactly where I want to be. It’s a complete move to see “Fiddler on the Roof” being on stage every day, to be with the people who inspired this theater nerd. It has been such a humbling experience.
Over the next few months, Evans will benefit from job security. He has been cast for the role of Bickle in Chanhassen’s upcoming mainstage production, “Footloose,” which begins January 28 and runs through September 4.
“Chanhassen is always going to feel like home to me,” he said. “It’s a place where I see myself working as long as they allow me.”
Looking back on his career, Evans couldn’t be prouder of his parents and they of him.
“It was a learning curve for all of us,” he said. “My mother has a child who works in Chanhassen. My dad, he used to be, ‘I don’t like singing, dancing and music.’ His growth and the way he came to these shows he is so proud of. I am proud of them too for supporting me and allowing me to live my truth and pursue my dream. They were only a great support in undertaking this journey.