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Olivia Puckett as Zoe Murphy

Here, I’m gonna analyze and describe Olivia Puckett’s performance as Zoe Murphy, and the ways in which it differed from Laura Dreyfuss’s. Enjoy!

First of all, Olivia Puckett is a blessing to us all. I love her so much (have you seen her Instagram stories?!) you all have no idea. She was so sweet, so good.

I’ll start from the beginning. Instantly, right as she entered during “Anybody Have a Map” her differences with Laura Dreyfuss were evident. She slouched in her chair, her foot giggling under the table. Also, with Connor, her dialogue was lighter, in a way. She delivered the “He’s definitely high” line almost jokingly, like she was just this younger sister poking fun at her brother. It wasn’t disapproving and harsh the way Laura’s delivery felt.

Even while they were exchanging “Fuck you’s!” they seemed more like siblings messing around than two extremely damaged teenagers taking out their anger on each other. It honestly felt like a normal sibling relationship. She wasn’t even yelling, and neither was Mike Faist. It wasn’t mean or anything. It was. Good.

Even when she marched off the stage, proclaiming that she’d leave without Connor if he doesn’t spead up, I felt as though she wouldn’t leave without him. Like that was yet another joke. No big deal. Like she’d wait in the driveway for him to come, and maybe give him a bit of a hard time about it all later, but that they’d laugh about it next week or something.

Then, she met Evan. She rushed over to him in the middle of WTAW, and he instantly recoiled, his shoulders turning inwards, his eyes on the ground, his hands twitching. She seemed genuinely concerned. Her voice was low, and she seemed to purposefully stay away from him, almost fearful of scaring him, while simultaneously wanting to be closer.

When she called Connor “a psychopath,” it sounded like she was angry with Connor for pushing Evan, who obviously didn’t deserve anything, but wasn’t disgusted or hateful. She didn’t sound like she hated Connor. Or even really disliked him. Just has a stereotypical teenage sibling relationship that’s a bit edgy.

When she walked away– “Okay…Jose…” –she turned around and looked back at Evan before leaving, almost fondly. It almost gave me the impression that this crush was requited, and perhaps had been for some time. That Evan’s love for Zoe wasn’t one-sided, that Zoe didn’t grow into liking Evan throughout the musical, but actually, in fact, liked him before it even began.

She entered, again, before “For Forever” and I could see a physical change that occurred in her during the 10 minutes or so she was off-stage. I could almost see her lose Connor, in that entrance. As she noticed Evan’s presence, she didn’t ask “Why is he here” like “Why is this weird kid in our house” but more like “Why is Evan, who I talked to in the hallway a few days ago, here?

Throughout the dinner before “For Forever,” she did this leg jiggle again. Which was. So fascinating. She had these particular ticks, ones which almost mirrored Evan’s. They seemed like two pieces of the same pie, in their own peculiar way. Simply, if Olivia Puckett announces one day that Zoe Murphy has a minor anxiety disorder, I would believe her in a heartbeat.

When she retorted about good times with Connor, saying that “There were no good times!” she didn’t sound like a possibly abused sibling. She sounded almost angry with herself, as though she was wondering why she didn’t notice something was wrong with Connor, as though she wished she’d tried harder. She didn’t sound like someone who was wronged and was furious, she sounded like someone who was remembering her entire childhood and trying to pinpoint where everything went wrong.

Laura’s Zoe seemed like a young person who suddenly lost control over seemingly everything in her life, someone who was almost drowning. Olivia’s Zoe seemed like a young person who had just temporarily misplaced control, someone who was floating just above the water’s surface.

During “Requiem,” Olivia cried, actually cried, which is something Laura definitely did not do. 

The whole “You were not the monster that I knew” thing was much less believable. But the “You’ve given me my brother back. Thank you.” thing at the end of “You Will Be Found” was so. much. more. believable.

I really felt for Olivia’s Zoe. “Requiem” was when I started crying fully during this performance, rather than during “You Will Be Found” (which normally what gets me). I felt her loss so deeply and profoundly, like she was taking the whole audience on this journey with her.

She truly seemed to mourn Connor, to have loved her brother. She seemed so devastated during “If I Could Tell Her” that she never got to tell Connor what she thought. 

It was just a different kind of loss.

As well, her relationship with Evan was so vastly different. She seemed to be more interested in him specifically and less interested in his connection with her brother. At the end of “You Will Be Found” when she kissed Evan the second time, she kept a hand on his when he pulled away. When he kissed her back, she wrapped her arms around him and like hug-kissed him. In the boot, with Laura Dreyfuss, Evan leaned Zoe into her back on the bed. 

The opposite happened here, with Zoe really taking control of their kissing, pushing Evan into the bed.

Also, during “Only Us” she put a hand on either side of Evan’s face and held him so softly when she sang “We can’t compete with all that” rather than motioning with one hand (see: Laura and Ben’s performance of “Only Us” on Seth Meyers). There was a part where she sat on Evan’s bed and Evan kneeled before her, and she held both of his hands between hers.

They held hands whenever they were together after that, honestly. During “Only Us,” Zoe normally kisses Evan once, at the very end of the song. Here, Olivia kissed Ben three (3) times. Twice while singing and once at the end of the song.

I cannot over-exaggerate the softness in her eyes when she looked at him. In all honestly, y’all, I felt myself really loving their relationship, which isn’t something I did beforehand. 

With Laura’s Zoe, I never would recommend Zoe and Evan being together for their own health. With Olivia’s Zoe, if they had met under different circumstances, if Evan hadn’t lied, I firmly believe that they could’ve had a healthy and happy relationship.

And the kegger skit!!! OMG!! She did the same dorky voice that Evan did with “til your mom gets home” when she said “in three hours!!” and they laughed. They laughed a lot.

It was so interesting to see almost Ben’s reactions as an actor to what Olivia was giving him. This was only the second time they’d ever done the show together in those characters, and it must’ve been so unusual to what he had been doing for the past hundred or so performances.

Zoe was so sweet? And? So strong? And never once mean to Evan? With Olivia, the whole “you don’t have to keep saying sorry….I was a little impressed, you ruined it” thing wasn’t as weird? It didn’t feel uncomfortable. It felt like: Zoe liked soft Evan, who apologizes all the time, she just wanted him to be comfortable enough around her to not feel like he had to apologize, rather than wanting him to change.

She felt like a young girl, who had suffered an immense loss, who was coping as best as she possibly could. She wasn’t some semi-popular girl who Evan liked purely because he thought she was hot (neither, of course, is Laura’s Zoe, or any form of Zoe, in fact). She was a multi-dimensional person who existed in her own right outside of anyone else. There was no room to see her as anyone else.

When she found out about Evan’s lie, it was almost more devastating. 

I would have believed her if she had said she loved Evan. 

Laura’s Zoe was angry and possibly depressed. She was desperate to grab a hold onto anything in her life, her life which was quickly spiraling out of control before her eyes. There, Evan seemed like the perfect person to grab onto, someone that was malleable and almost willing to be controlled.

Olivia’s Zoe felt in-control, like she knew what she was doing and knew where she would be in ten years, she just wasn’t there quite yet.

She obviously loved Connor and was mourning his death, but there didn’t seem to be as much guilt involved.

In her final scene, where she met Evan at the orchard, she, like Evan, seemed to have also gone through a metamorphosis. She seemed to have grown so much, and she held her head higher, too, just like Evan. To me, Zoe is a lead character, sharing the female lead title with Heidi Hansen, rather than a supporting character.

I love Laura Dreyfuss with my entire heart and soul, and her Zoe was a very particular character as well. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact differences between her Zoe and Olivia’s Zoe, because they are both truly incredible. Both woman are powerhouses of whom I will forever be in awe. Both portrayals make Zoe a fascinating, dynamic, complex, female character, one that is much, much more than a love interest or plot point. She, in some aspects, feels like the beating heart of the show. It’s hard to put my connection with her into words.

Again, like I said with Michael Lee Brown’s Jared vs. Will Roland’s Jared, neither performance was better. Both are heart-wrenching and powerful and conveyed a message to the audience, reached out and grabbed our hearts in their hands. Both are incredible. Just very, very different.

Essentially, Olivia Puckett’s performance was incredible. Unbelievable actually. Any desire to not want to see the understudies is pointless and wrong, let me tell you. This entire cast and entire crew are the most talented people I’ve ever seen.