Tyler Hanes has certainly made his mark on Broadway with his name appearing in many a Playbill. But, on November 2, Tyler's name will light up a marquee in Marietta, his hometown, as he returns to his roots for a special, one-night-only, one-man show.
Tyler, who graduated from the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts (CCCEPA) program at Pebblebrook High School, has been performing on Broadway since 2002. He has been cast in some of Broadway’s most well-known musicals, including the 2002 revival of “Oklahoma!,” “Urban Cowboy,” “The Boy From Oz,” “The Frogs” and “Hairspray.” He was also cast in the 2005 revival of “Sweet Charity,” as Larry in the original revival company of “A Chorus Line” and in the 2014 revival of “On The Town.” His most recent, and perhaps most exciting role yet, was as the oh-so-curious cat Rum Tum Tugger in the highly-anticipated Broadway revival of “CATS.”
Cobb Life contributor Jennifer Wilkes recently chatted with Tyler about his career and his upcoming show at the Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre in Marietta.
Q: What was it that made you decide to choose a career in the entertainment industry?
Tyler: I am number five of seven kids. The arts have always been a huge part of my life. My mom and grandmother were singers. My sisters were dancers, and I remember begging to take ballet at my sisters’ dance studio. The owner of the studio said I was too young to participate, so I waited until I could finally take lessons. Through dance, I learned a strong work ethic and how to be a disciplined performer. It also taught me how to be a good sport and accept how to win and even lose.
Q: Let’s talk about your time at Pebblebrook. I hear from Frank Timmerman (the executive director of CCCEPA) that as confident as you were in dance, you weren’t always so confident about your ability to sing. What did the performing arts program there do to change that for you?
Tyler: You know, Pebblebrook truly changed everything. It changed the course of my life as a person and an artist. It is true - I started off as a dancer and I didn’t find my singing voice until later. However, I had the desire to work hard and find it. I have always been a hard worker and I love taking on challenges that push me, sometimes even scare me. For so long, I had been put in a box as a dancer, and I let the opinions of others affect my own view of myself. Then, all of a sudden, people began to tell me I could sing and I could act. Sure, it took a while to gain my confidence, but after a lot of work, even I saw myself as a singer, actor AND a dancer.
Q: After you graduated from the CCCEPA program (and spent a year at Carnegie Mellon University), you went on to be a part of many Broadway musicals as a dancer. How and when did you find yourself as a singer/dancer/actor on Broadway?
Tyler: After dancing in several Broadway shows, which were all amazing, I found myself back in the dancer box. And, you know, I allowed people to put me back in that box. It was during my fifth Broadway show, “Sweet Charity,” that I knew I wanted to be a principal player. I took a leap of faith and I put myself out there as a singer, actor and a dancer. Another defining moment in my career.
Q: What advice would you give to a young performer starting out in this industry?
Tyler: Young performers - people will always put you in a box. You need to have a good sense of self and see the potential within you. The entertainment industry wants to define you and, you know, they can or YOU can. You are the product, so be the best product you know how to be!
Q: You have been a part of some amazing shows. What show/character has been your favorite so far?
Tyler: “CATS,” hands-down! It was a role that pushed me more than I had ever been pushed, and an opportunity I never would have expected. I love being challenged, and I love things that scare me - the role did both. I actually auditioned for another character, not even Rum Tum Tugger, so I was shocked when I was cast in the role. And, let me say, he (Rum Tum) really challenged me. The directors were so wonderful because they let me create my take on Tugger and, every night, I tried something new. Most rewarding role, hands-down.
Q: I followed along on Instagram with you on the video series, “What’s New, Pussycat? Backstage at 'CATS.'” How did that come to be?
Tyler: Aww, thanks! That was so much fun. My best friend and I worked on that together. We wanted to make it a more like a sketch comedy combined with a documentary of what it’s like behind the scenes at “CATS.” Brodway.com had a vlog series, but we wanted to make it a bit different. “CATS” is an ensemble show, and we wanted to make the series about everyone and to showcase them all. We had such a great time filming it, and it was well received. When we were given our closing note, six months before closing (which was a huge blessing and not often done), we asked if we could create six more episodes before we closed out. They said yes, and off we went to create more fun. It was such a great way for the fans to get to know us, see the rehearsal process and the work behind the scenes. People from all over the world were watching and many actually came to the show after following along! It was great.
Q: Tell me about this new one-man show you are bringing to The Strand in Marietta, your hometown, on November 2.
Tyler: First, I really like to create my own stuff. I had had some producers reach out to me about producing a show like this one. I told them, “I really don’t have a show like that, but let me figure it out!” I turned once again to my writing partner, Sarah Ford, and together, we started figuring it out. My first show was in Boston and it was sold out. I had also received a great deal of encouragement from one of my best friends, Kristin Chenoweth. (I am truly not a name-dropper, but she really is one of my closest friends.) I had worked with her as a choreographer and we just became good friends. She has been guiding me through the process and helping to push me out of my comfort zone. She told me this show would have a life of its own and that I was going to have so much fun. The day after the Boston show, we spoke and she said, “Was I right?” She was right! After Boston, I spoke with my mentor, Wayne Cilento, who is really Broadway royalty. I picked his brain and he directed the show to help me make it something really cool. As I begin to look at cities to perform the show, I knew Marietta would be one of my first stops. It was important to me to come back home and perform. This is where it all started! I wanted to do it for my family and friends, as they are such a part of my story.
Q: What can those attending the show in November expect?
Tyler: A LOT OF FUN! It is a one-man entertainment show. There will be a lot of great dancing and singing. There will be fantastic music and a lot of funny stories. Yes, I love to talk, ha! I actually like to refer to it as a one-man entertainment, live-action show, ha!
Q: How often do you get back home?
Tyler: I really try to get back at least two times a year, or whatever my schedule will allow. I was home this summer, as I taught a week of classes at Broadway Dreams in Alpharetta, and I love to go back to Pebblebrook and teach when I can, too. I also have the most incredible two-year old nephew here and I love to come see him. I have been in New York since 2002, with three years in LA, but I always love coming home to Marietta.
Q: What do you wish the Tyler Hanes in 2002 knew that you know now?
Tyler: Great question. The younger me was so naïve in the city, but I had a good sense of fearlessness. In this industry, it’s really hard not to compare yourself to others, but you can’t. Never compare yourself to others. Focus on you, and stay in your lane. Yeah, definitely, stay in your lane!
Q: Before we end our interview, I have to ask you about being named Broadway’s Sexiest Man Alive by Broadway.com not one year, but two years in a row.
Tyler: Ah, yes, the real news, ha! That whole thing came out of nowhere. I was incredibly flattered and honored and thought my mom was paying people off to vote for me. But, really, it was crazy, and when it happened again the second year, I was blown away. I really didn’t see that one coming. Let me say this, Broadway fans are the best. I mean they are truly amazing, and I was touched by their gesture in voting for me. It’s funny, I don’t see myself as sexy. I see myself as the kid with braces and bowl cut. That image is stuck inside me and I am still very much a clown inside.
Tyler’s show, “Broadway’s Tyler Hanes: Live at The Strand,” will take place Friday, November 2 at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through the Strand’s box office by calling 770-293-0080 or visiting earlsmithstrand.org.