Phoenix Best found herself on a fast track. When she was a student at Phil-Mont Christian Academy in Erdenheim, Pennsylvania, Best was bitten by the stage bug. She went on to DeSales University, just north of Quakertown, studying in the school’s vibrant theater program – and after working in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival there during the summer of her graduation in 2015, moved to New York to go to auditions.
Only a month later, Best, who just turned 24, was chosen as an understudy in the Broadway revival of “The Color Purple.” After that, she replaced a vacationing actress in the smash Broadway hit “Dear Evan Hansen.” And now, she’s back home, appearing in Philadelphia for the first time and in a principal position: She’s playing Eponine in the national Broadway tour of “Les Misérables.”
Eponine is a girl teenagers can relate to. “Everybody loves Eponine,” Best said. The character is a portrait of unrequited love – she falls deeply for a young French revolutionary named Marius, but he considers her nothing more than a friend. As Eponine, Best sings one of the musical’s great songs, the poetic “On My Own,” in which she assesses her dashed love.
The first time Best saw “Les Miz” was five years ago, at the Academy of Music – where she’s now in the show. “My family has tickets throughout the next two weeks – someone will definitely be there every night,” she said. As for playing the academy, on opening night Tuesday “the whole show felt different for me. I was nervous, I was excited, I was scared.”
She knew what it looked like from the audience, but now she was facing the other way. “It was really cool to step foot on that stage and just look out – I remember in our sound check before the show I stepped on the stage, and I was like – wow!”
The academy’s grandeur was not lost on the cast in general. “Everyone keeps saying, ‘Oh my gosh, your home theater’s so beautiful,’ ” Best said. “And I was like, yeah, it is.”
Click on the audio link to hear some of my conversation with Phoenix Best. “Les Miz” plays at the Academy through Jan. 21.