Evelyn Christina Tonn—who plays Hunyak and understudies Roxie Hart in the Broadway National Tour of Chicago—got her start in the arts in Sarasota. Now a 10-year-veteran of the touring company, Tonn reflects on how her experience in Sarasota’s arts community fueled her passion, her favorite thing to do when she’s home and her advice for young people who want to follow in her footsteps.
You grew up in Sarasota—what was that like?
My mom put me into so many [activities] when I was a child—tae kwon do, singing, swimming, dancing, singing—to see where I landed. I began studying at Florida Studio Theatre at a young age, and with Sarasota Ballet in middle school, and I took to that right away, dancing with the ballet as an advanced student in several productions, like the Nutcracker, Don Quixote and Swan Lake. This is such an incredibly artistic community; there are all these amazing opportunities you’re able to take advantage of as a kid, and I’m so grateful for that.
Did you continue performing in college?
I graduated from Riverview High School in 2004 and went on to major in political science at UCF in Orlando, but continued to do musical theater outside of school. I actually got a government scholarship to study Arabic at the University of Jordan, but the Israeli-Lebanese conflict broke out right before I was supposed to go and my political science career was paused.
So how did that affect your career in entertainment?
If I had gone on that trip, I would have had to work for the federal government for two years afterward. So I would have solidified that career trajectory and never given the entertainment industry a fair shake. I ended up graduating early so I could go to New York and moved there in 2007. Within a four-month span I got the non-union tour of Chicago; when I was 21, I transitioned into the Broadway national tour. I’ve been on and off that for the past 10 years. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!
That’s a long time to perform with one show. How do you keep it feeling fresh night after night?
Well, the show just celebrated its 20th anniversary, which is an amazing accomplishment. And it’s still so relevant—the storyline, the politics, the setting. When I first started, at 21, I loved Fosse; the music and the movement and the style of the show. Now, the older I get, and the more I experience the world, the more it resonates. I’m so grateful to have landed in a show that only gets better with age.
Any favorite tour locations?
I’m so happy to go all over. Dubai was pretty cool because I had a background studying Arabic in college; it was so amazing to have the opportunity to be someplace where my political science background and my passion for my career met.
What do you like to do when you’re home in Sarasota?
I love salsa dancing; 15 South Ristorante is one of my favorite places to go when I’m home.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
The hope and the prayer is the New York [Broadway] company of Chicago. I would love to be in New York. There’s also a lot of TV and film in New York that I want to look into. I’m trying to plan while also leaving myself open to whatever may come. With this industry, it’s so uncertain—you never want to force a plan.
What advice would you give someone who’s just starting out in the entertainment industry?
It’s a double-edged sword. People say follow your heart and pursue your passions, but there’s also an aspect of this industry that’s disheartening and hard. If you’re not willing to continually accept that, I would do something else. The great part is when you’re working. It’s the in-between that’s so difficult.
I would say continue to study, better yourself and your skill set and make sure you’re at the top of your game at all times. Don’t take anything personally, and trust the timing. Nothing else lights me up from the inside like stepping on that stage—I know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.
Chicago will be at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Friday, March 25, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 26, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 27, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets start at $56; for more information and to purchase, click here.