Meet the cast of 'How to Dance in Ohio' on Broadway

The musical, based on an award-winning documentary of the same name, centers on autistic young adults and features a principal cast of autistic actors.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

The company of the new Broadway musical How to Dance in Ohio has a saying: "If you've met one autistic individual, you've met one autistic individual." The show centers on the coming-of-age stories of seven autistic, young adults preparing for a formal dance, and no two of their experiences, journeys, or milestones are the same. So it goes, too, for the people playing them.

All seven actors starring in Ohio reprise their roles from the 2022 Syracuse world premiere of the musical, which in turn are based on real people from an award-winning documentary by Alexandra Shiva. The young actors are all making their Broadway debuts, and most importantly, they're all autistic.

"We were able to bring our natural selves into these characters," actor Conor Tague said. "The fact that autistic people are playing autistic characters is growing — it started off with Kayla Cromer for Everything's Gonna Be Okay, and now we're next."

The principal cast also includes four neurotypical actors, three of whom are Broadway veterans, making Ohio truly diverse in every sense of the word — in neurotype, race, gender, age, and experience level. Said Tague, "This is the kind of representation we all need."

Get to know the cast of How to Dance in Ohio, who share more about their characters, how they relate (and don't relate) to them, and fun facts about themselves as performers.


Desmond Luis Edwards

Many actors say they bring themselves to their characters, but for Edwards, as the character Remy, it was partly the other way around.

Who they play: Remy is an avid cosplayer and really into fashion and costumes and makeup. My character just started a cosplay channel, and he's trying to get a little bit of recognition, but this recognition comes in some unexpected ways, and now he has to learn how to cope with that.

What they love about their character: I love to do digital art and fashion design, and I actually picked up cosplay because my character does cosplay. Both my character and I are very artistic as well as autistic!

Fun fact: I am one of the first openly intersex people to be on Broadway.


Amelia (Yi-Hsuan) Fei

When describing what playing her character, Caroline, taught her, Fei referenced Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods: "Nice is different than good."

Who she plays: Caroline is a freshman in college, and she just got her first boyfriend. She's very excited — her special interest is romance, loves Bridgerton, the Regency [Era]. She pictured her life in a certain way and then realizes, "I thought having a boyfriend is so wonderful, but I don't know how to set boundaries."

What she loves about her character: [Caroline] is truly someone who'll heal [my] inner child. It's just such a delight to play her.

Fun fact: I used to have "bark like a chihuahua" under my special skills [on my resume], and I'm very proud of that skill!


Liam Pearce

Pearce makes his Broadway debut as Drew, an empath who just wants the best for his friends — which seems like the vibe between the cast off stage as well.

Who he plays: Drew tackles situations or struggles that he has in a straightforward, step-by-step format. He cares a lot about his friends — he can tell you what is going on in every one of his friends' lives because he's so adamant [about] listening and observing.

What he loves about his character: The way he develops feelings for Marideth throughout the show is very similar to the way I develop crushes on people. Watching the ways that he tries to speak to her and his struggle and accomplishments with that is fascinating.

Fun fact: I am making my Broadway debut playing opposite a person who is a foot and a half shorter than me.


Madison Kopec

Kopec's Marideth is the quietest of the bunch, but over the course of Ohio, she learns how to reach out to others — and finds unexpected friendship and love along the way.

Who they play: Marideth keeps to herself most of the time unless she gets going on something she's interested in, like geography — then she could talk your ear off forever.

What they love about their character: She and I are very similar in our journey to adulthood and figuring out, "Okay, I'm 18. Now what?" That story is going to be relatable for people.

Fun fact: I am playing opposite someone who is a foot and a half taller than me.


Imani Russell

Russell makes their Broadway debut as Mel, the only one of the seven main characters without a direct real-life counterpart. The character is a composite of multiple people — including Russell.

Who they play: I play Mel. They love reptiles, they're a very spiritual person, they love quotes. They're the only character we see of the seven autistic principals that has a job and is living on their own. That is super important for me to portray as someone in a similar position.

What they love about their character: I was able to have a lot of conversations with Rebekah [Greer Melocik], the writer, about autism and its relationship to queerness and how that has affected me. She was so willing to implement that into the character, which means a lot to me and will also mean a lot to [my] queer and trans/non-binary friends who are also autistic.

Fun fact: I'm a classically trained singer, so I started out singing opera and arias. Now I'm doing musical theatre!


Conor Tague

Tague, a native New Yorker, moved back to his home city just a few weeks before Ohio rehearsals to play Tommy. "I'm really happy to be in New York and to be making my Broadway debut, and to have a reason to come up here and live my authentic self," he said.

Who he plays: Tommy's goal is to become a licensed driver, and he wants to borrow his brother's truck for practice. His brother doesn't want him to do that, but that ain't gonna stop him.

What he loves about his character: Tommy, like me, is a comic book nerd. He loves Marvel and DC and sci-fi/fantasy, like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. But there is one major difference between me and Tommy: Tommy wants to be a licensed driver. But not me. I'm good with the subway.

Fun fact: I also do puppetry. I was inspired by John Tartaglia, who's widely known for Avenue Q. I met John when I was 15, and he knows about our show!


Ashley Wool

Rounding out the septet of autistic leads is Ashley Wool, making her Broadway debut as the strong-willed Jessica.

Who she plays: Jessica is a young woman who is really determined and ambitious to check off all of the necessary boxes of adulthood. She's really dedicated to going to therapy, to make sure she's doing everything expected of her, and a large part of her character is learning that nothing happens on an exact timeline for everybody. She's watching her best friend have her first boyfriend, and she has some feelings about that.

What she loves about her character: [She learns that] everyone's timeline is different. Everyone's story is different. Everybody's milestones are different.

Fun fact: I still have a grody old piece of wood from my high school production of Footloose 20 years ago. It's in my New York City apartment, and I'm planning to put it in the dressing room.


Caesar Samayoa

Samayoa comes to How to Dance in Ohio from another Broadway musical inspired by a true story, Come From Away, in which he performed for its entire five-year run.

Who he plays: I play Dr. Emilio Amigo — he is the owner and one of the counselors at the counseling center. Inspired by the young men and women that go to the center, he comes up with the idea of of holding a spring formal. His heart bursts open and his life changes because of what he's learning.

What he loves about his character: [The real Amigo and I have] been emailing back and forth, and we will be meeting in person very soon. What I'm getting from his energy and from how he runs his center is the belief that we are limitless and that we should always be striving for more, to break our boundaries.

Fun fact: I tend to only do roles that are based on real things.


Cristina Sastre

Sastre makes her Broadway debut as Ashley Amigo, a young girl who grew up in her father's counseling center and is now looking to forge her own path.

Who she plays: Ashley Amigo is the daughter of Dr. Amigo, the head psychologist at the Amigo Family Counseling Center. She has just come back from school, where she's a dancer, and she's feeling conflicted about what she wants to do with her life.

What he loves about his character: When I got the audition packet, I was like, this feels like me. I really connect to her not being sure if this thing she's poured so much time and energy into is the right thing. I relate to her doubt and her feeling of responsibility to her parents who have given up so much for her, but at the same time, the strength to listen to the voice inside of you.

Fun fact: I love to paint and draw. When I was a very small child, before I decided to be an actor, I thought I would be an artist.


Darlesia Cearcy

With five previous Broadway credits to her name, most recently Once on This Island, Cearcy returns to theatre in a motherly role on and off stage.

Who she plays: Johanna is not necessarily a character — she's a real woman, and she is the mother to Caroline.

What she loves about her character: I too, am a mother. I bring that to my character and to the seven [lead actors]. Sometimes they're like, "Okay, can you pull back?" But it's all with love. That protective, motherly spirit — I just can't help it!

Fun fact: Before I moved into musical theatre, my former training is as a classical ballet dancer. Once I decided I wanted to move into leading-lady parts, I covered my body so they wouldn't see me standing in first position.


Haven Burton

Broadway veteran Haven Burton says she always tries to bring herself to her roles, but she described her role as Terry in particular as "art imitating life imitating art."

Who she plays: Terry is Jessica's mother and best friends with Johanna.

What she loves about her character: I'm a mom, and I have history with my own mother that I'm bringing into that. I also have a son who is on the autism spectrum, so it's been beautiful to bring that in and learn a lot from my fellow cast members, and from Terry as as the character is written. Her relationship with her daughter has informed my personal life.

Fun fact: I do lots of funny voices — I do lots of animated characters from Pokémon.

Excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.

Top image credit: The cast of How to Dance in Ohio. (Photo and cast portraits by Marc J. Franklin)

Originally published on

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