By Greg Carannante
City & Shore Magazine
The road from Boca to Broadway stardom wasn’t exactly a straight shot for Rachel Bay Jones — there was that 20-year detour — but it certainly seems like it was one destined for her.
The daughter of “intense and wonderful” Shakespearean actors, the Tony Award-winning star of the hit musical Dear Evan Hansen says she grew up in 1980s Boca Raton with a “deep, deep respect and love” for theater. She discovered the stage at 12 when she auditioned with her mother for a local play.
“I got the part, and my mother didn’t, which was an interesting way to start my teenage years,” she told Broadway Style Guide.
The actress returns to South Florida for an evening of show tunes and conversation Feb. 16 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, as part of the Broadway Concert Series hosted by Sirius/XM Radio star and “Mayor of Broadway” Seth Rudetsky.
Following in her parents’ footsteps, Jones eventually dropped out of Spanish River High School for another local production and at 19 made the leap to New York City. “It just felt like a natural gravitation,” she said in a Broadway.com interview. “My parents didn’t push me, but being an actor was encouraged.”
Now about that detour: She landed her Broadway debut in Meet Me in St. Louis in 1989, and then followed it up with a 20-year hiatus, sometimes living and working in South Florida. “There’s really great work being done there in the theater — really edgy and cutting-edge work,” she said in the Sun-Sentinel last year. “The fact that people can actually work and make a living as actors has really created a rich, artistic life down there.”
She made it back to the Great White Way in Hair in 2009, and she’s been there ever since — from 2013’s Pippin revival to the current record-breaker Dear Evan Hansen, the Tony Awards’ Best Musical of 2017 for which she also won Best Featured Actress playing Evan’s single mother, Heidi.
When the adolescent Jones wasn’t performing in local productions in West Boca, she says she spent her time “running around barefoot, playing with baby snakes and toads. Our backyard was literally a swamp,” she told Broadway.com. “The first year we moved there, the alligators ate everyone’s dogs. Luckily for my heart, my mom was allergic to pets!”
Tickets for Rachel Bay Jones are $23-$123, available at parkerplayhouse.com
Aside from the weather, what do you enjoy most about living in South Florida?
The sky is everywhere! (And the humidity is great for my skin.)
Aside from the weather, what do you dislike most about living in South Florida?
The culture and lifestyle doesn’t include full appreciation of our history and beautiful, unique natural environment. I grew up with the Everglades in my backyard and I can’t ever forget its dangerous, rough beauty.
Are you a beach person or a pool person?
Beach! And pool! If I can have both in the same day I’m LIVING.
When in your life are you or have you been the happiest?
Sunday morning with a cup of coffee and the whole family including the two big dogs and the cat in the bed talking and reading. (The dogs don’t read. My cat might but she’s not admitting anything.)
What do you do when you’re stuck in a traffic jam on I-95?
Are you a fan, and if so, of what?
Do you do social media? If so, what are your handles?
Instagram and Twitter @rachelbayjones
Who is your real-life hero or heroine?
My Nana. She was a single mother and fierce businesswoman before it was OK to be one.
What car are you driving now?
Manhattan’s public transport, baby!
What do you like most about yourself?
Tender heart. Tough hands.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My tendency to procrastinate.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I can’t take credit for her, but my daughter, Miranda [who, of course, wants to be an actress].