Michael Park on Dear Evan Hansen‘s significant impact, pre-show dance parties, and Tuck Everlasting

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Stellar performances, a phenomenal original story by Steven Levenson, and gorgeous music by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul that requires a box of Kleenex for listening purposes have rendered Dear Evan Hansen Broadway’s hottest ticket with sold-out shows seemingly “for forever.” Now, with the release of the highly-anticipated Original Broadway Cast Recording and its recent wildly popular panel at BroadwayCon, it’s all the rage among the Broadway community. One of the big names contributing to the show’s success is Broadway veteran Michael Park, who stars as Larry Murphy, the emotionally distant father of Evan’s classmate Connor.

Park has been in the acting biz for the past two decades both on and off the stage, having previously appeared in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying as Bert Bratt and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as Gooper as well as a long run as Jack Snyder in the popular soap opera  As The World Turns. Park has been with Dear Evan Hansen since its origins when director Michael Grief invited him to the reading and remained with the show from that first reading to the Broadway debut, save the Off-Broadway premiere when he was starring on Broadway as Angus Tuck in the short-lived production of Tuck Everlasting. Park caught up with Stage Door Dish to share his real-life motivation for Larry, the personal influence the show has had on his life, and the impact he hopes this emotional journey of a show will have on the world.

You’ve been cast as the father figure consistently the past few years: Gooper in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Angus Tuck in Tuck Everlasting, Father in Ragtime, and now Larry Murphy in Dear Evan Hansen.

No one’s complaining, least of all me! You reach a certain age and there’s a bit of a gap between playing the ingénue roles and the young lovers and the father-lier roles. Thankfully I had As The World Turns to kind of live in for a while to get me from one role to the other.

Have there been any strong similarities or differences you’ve noticed that have stuck out between the various characters?

There are similarities in the sense that they impart wisdom in a song in the second act, as far as a literal similarity goes. The diametrically-opposed portion is the fact that one of them, Angus Tuck, lives forever and the other one realizes just how mortal he is and how precious life can be in the fact that every moment should matter in Larry Murphy’s life. He realizes that he should take nothing for granted and he finds something new, almost a second chance, with Evan Hansen.

Larry Murphy is a father coming to terms with how to grieve for a son he had an almost non-existent relationship with. How has this impacted your own relationship with your children?

I’m willing to admit that I may have made some mistakes with my son, also in the realm of his little league baseball career. I was his coach for several years and I realized that drove a wedge between the father/son relationship. Some people tend to put a lot of energy and focus on their own son, I was the opposite way where I was focusing on the team and not enough attention, in my opinion, on my son, and maybe coming down a little hard on him. 

I’ve said this in several different articles, Larry has certainly made me a better parent with my daughters. I am more aware, more awake, and more present in a very good way. Where Larry is at fault in that respect, my eyes are more open thanks to Steven Levenson’s writing.

How has your relationship with Larry Murphy changed over time?

It’s been about three years now. The relationship changes obviously with the writin. It changed because the cathartic moment at the end of act 1, the glove song, is sung earlier now than it was in D.C., which I thought was a fantastic move by the creative team because the song “You Will Be Found” is so important, and the message is so clear that it is hard for Larry to ignore it. Seeing those posts from people he didn’t know cared about his son…all the guilt builds up and he basically implodes in front of all those pictures of Connor. That song wasn’t in the show in D.C., so there was none of that. Instead there was a song called “A Part of Me,” and it had the same scene to it but without the impact that “You Will Be Found” has.

The biggest change for me was watching John Dossett at Second Stage Theatre because it was quite wonderful and that moment hit me hard, I was weeping in my chair –I’m getting emotional thinking about it right now, but I was almost intimidated. How can I make people feel the same way that John made me feel?

It’s no secret that Tuck Everlasting did not have the run that many hoped for, despite the many devoted fans. In retrospect, is there anything you think could’ve been done to change the outcome?

Unfortunately, that question is a bit above my pay grade. When I am at the stage door signing autographs and greeting people for Dear Evan Hansen, the thing I am most blown away by is the number of people who tell me how much they enjoyed Tuck Everlasting and how they’re sad as well about the short life that it had. At the same time, now I get to celebrate the fact that it is going into the regional theatres and is going to be shared with many people.

Dear Evan Hansen opened with ten million dollars of advanced sales; people can’t get enough of your show! Riding on the coattails of Tuck, how does it feel to know that you’ve help create such a phenomenon?

It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, I am glad that it is so successful, but on the other hand it sucks that so many people can’t see it or are priced out of seeing it. We do now have a lottery and standing room-only tickets as well though.

I’m glad that this show reaches teenagers and high schoolers and college students – I had no idea the impact that it was going to have on these people who feel lost. There’s a certain responsibility that goes along with that message and how powerful it is. It also speaks to single parents and people who have mother/son or father/daughter issues, etc. It is reaching a lot of people and I am so proud of that. It’s what I am most proud of; I haven’t been in a show that has had that much of an impact. 

That might’ve been the problem with Tuck Everlasting, that people maybe walked out of the theatre not feeling like the message of the show changed their life but that it was a sweet show, which is a great compliment to have, but is that enough for commercial theatre? I don’t know the answer to that. I love and miss all those wonderful people so much. Carolee and I obviously have crossed paths several times. Sarah Charles Lewis was incredible as Winnie. She’ll be back; she is only at the start of her career. It was a great chance to work with Casey Nicholaw, the relationship I had with Casey and the creatives…it was a pleasure to be in the room with them.

You’ve been with the show for quite some time, what was it that initially drew you to the story and made you believe in it?

Reading the script for the first time at the table read at Pearl Studios three years ago drew me to it. Michael Grief had come to see a show I was doing, The Threepenny Opera at The Atlantic, and I didn’t get a chance to see him after that show. But I later ran into him at the opening of Violet on Broadway and it was the first time I met him, and he told me that he had a part he thought I would be right for and would be in touch over the next few weeks. Of course, my curiosity was piqued – Michael Grief asking me to be in his show is a privilege. Sitting down and reading the script for the first time with Ben Platt and Rachel Bay Jones and Jennifer Laura Thompson, we were all in tears. In that moment I realized that this was an extremely special piece. I cleared everything after that to be available to be a part of any reading or workshop. I felt so lucky to be a part of this company.

Tell me about the pre-show dance party! I’ve heard it’s become a ritual now?

In one way or another, there is always a pre-show dance party. Ben makes the theme if there is a theme; sometimes there is, sometimes there’s not. Some nights you’re very into it and some nights you’re not but it’s there. And it does change your mood beforehand and preps you to take this very hard, very emotional journey. And we’re all thankful for that respite.  So it’s great, especially for Ben. I’m happy to say that he is the most into it. I think it’s important to put yourself in the lightest of moods, especially considering that there is a tragedy in the second scene.  

Thank you so much, Michael, it’s been wonderful to hear your thoughts on the show.

Of course! I hope I could articulate what I meant by being a parent and how much this has influenced me because it has. I wasn’t one who grew up without a father; I had my battles with my dad and I will tap into that when I’m a little lost in the script some nights – and it does help. It’s a bit of a therapeutic journey for me as well as an actor and a human being. To know that there are people out there who are hurting and feeling lost and to know that you’re not alone in these feelings is something that hopefully everyone will realize. And they should realize that adolescence is a tough thing to go through. I wouldn’t want to go back to my high school years even if you paid me a million dollars. If there is any way that I can be of help to anyone going through that and feeling lost and disconnected, I would do whatever I can.

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About Nicole N.

"Say yes. Show up afraid, show up prepared, but say yes." - Renee Elise Goldsberry

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