Five Burning Questions with Dear Evan Hansen Star Michael Park
January 12th, 2017
by Josh Ferri
Two-time Emmy Award-winning As the World Turns star Michael Park is blowing away Broadway audiences as the bereaved father, Larry Murphy, in the big hit musical of the season, Dear Evan Hansen. Park made his Broadway debut as a standby and eventual replacement for Billy Bigelow in LCT's Tony-winning Carousel. He went on to co-star in Smokey Joe's Cafe, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Little Me, and last season's Tuck Everlasting. He also starred off-Broadway in the original productions of Violet and Hello Again. BroadwayBox caught up with the charming stage and screen star to talk about how the musical hits home, how the cast keeps it light backstage, and where he keeps his Emmy Awards.
1. Leaving the Music Box, the first thing I needed to know: what is the vibe like backstage before and after the show?
I like to get to the theatre early so I can get out of the world of who I am as a father and husband and the honey-do-list that greets me every night when I get home and get into my cocoon of Larry Murphy—and I know that sounds very actory but it really does prepare me for this story we are about to tell to an audience who has never heard it before. The vibe early for me is to chill out and get in my space and relax. Then comes 15 minutes to places when Ben Platt comes up with his portable speaker and we have a dance party in the hallway. (And this lad has been in the theatre as long as I have, preparing for his journey as Evan Hansen, which I can only imagine has got to be exhausting every single day. It’s a work ethic like I have not known in my 25 years of doing theatre or television.). So when he comes up we all of the sudden lose all this baggage we are about to carry on with us and we come together as the family that we are. It’s wonderful; it’s disarming; it’s communal; and it's necessary. And now I’ve become so incredibly superstitious that if it does not happen every night at the specific time, I will go to his room whether he wants a dance party or not. [Laughs] Then after the show, we are still kind of in tears backstage after every performance, and I hope that sensation never leaves me. The gratification we have and carry out to the stage door, I hope that never ceases to happen.
2. While we are talking about prep and character, did you and Jennifer Laura Thompson speak to parents who lost a child? How did you prepare?
I lost my sister when I was 16 years old and she was 14. I lost her to leukemia. So, I carry that and those experiences with me every day, forget every night. I watched my parents go through the loss of a child and the strength that they had and the way they picked us up during that time. The fact that the family came together (uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents); we all bonded together unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. At that time (I think it was around ’85), we weren’t the first ones to jump and see a therapist, but we had our family therapy and our parish priests to talk to. Everything was accessible to us. That was a very, very monumental moment in my life, and I’d be lying if I said in some way I’m not carrying the memory of how my parents dealt with those situations with me. Also, I lost my father almost two years ago, and I didn't realize how much of an influence he had on my life until I started doing this show. It’s really amazing how art and life have a certain synergy to create a feeling and being onstage. This show is somewhat dedicated to everyone I’ve ever lost in my life. It also makes me want to go home and hug my kids every night.
3. The audience at Dear Evan Hansen is so audibly reacting to this material. How does that fuel the cast?
To be honest, I have to say the eight characters onstage have this journey to go on whether the audience is there or not. The fourth wall is kind of legitimate. We are going to be living in this space for the next two and a half hours. It doesn’t have a bearing, especially to my character. [Larry Murphy] is heavy in a way. He’s a dark being. So I don’t get to hear the laughter and feel the togetherness of the audience so much until after the dinner with Heidi. This might be a better question for Will Roland or Kristolyn Lloyd, our incredible comic relief. But I’m so grateful and fortunate to have this audience. [Dear Evan Hansen] is so inclusive. It’s supposed to reach every single person. I’m very happy every night.
4. Where do you keep your two Emmy Awards?
My costar, Maura West, and I were absolutely overjoyed we received them together for Outstanding Lead Actor and Actress. I’m going to be honest. The self-deprecating part of me kept the first one in the bathroom—just to equalize it a bit. My wife thought it was a touch morose and a bit gross, so we have them on a mantel now. My wife has a music room where she conducts her sessions, so we keep them in the music room. A lot of people come over to the house just to take a picture with one of them. It was a nice parting gift for the 13 years I spent on As the World Turns.
5. What are the three websites you visit the most?
Mashable is definitely one of them. Yahoo for Yahoo Sports, because we still have the How to Succeed in Business football league. It’s like a religion to us. Daniel Radcliffe is a beast in that league, and my team is absolutely horrendous this year. But that means next year we’ll be that much better, so everybody better watch out because I’m coming for them. Then the third is CNN, just to keep up with the news. This political season has just been awful, and that’s why Dear Evan Hansen is so incredibly important, more now than ever.
Bring your tissues to Broadway's Music Box Theatre when you go see Michael Park in 'Dear Evan Hansen'.