After More Than 1,000 Dear Evan Hansens, Michael Park and Jennifer Laura Thompson Wave Goodbye
The last two original cast members of the Tony-winning musical look back on four years as they get ready to hit the road.
Neither Jennifer Laura Thompson nor Michael Park knew exactly how many performances they've done in Dear Evan Hansen over the past four years, so I had the pleasure of telling them. By the time they finish their runs as Cynthia and Larry Murphy in the Tony-winning musical on August 4, Thompson will have played the role 1,157 times, with Park coming close behind at 1,071. That includes Broadway previews, the full out-of-town tryout run at Arena Stage in 2015, and, for Thompson, the off-Broadway run at Second Stage in 2016.
They're both flabbergasted and immensely proud of being able to sustain themselves for so long in such a demanding show. But, as the last two original cast members still standing, they were determined to go out on a high — and by each other's side, as well.
This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
It's the first performance of your final week in Dear Evan Hansen. How do you feel right now? Happy? Sad? Ready to go?
Jennifer Laura Thompson: All of that.
Michael Park: In the best way. We were just upstairs talking about our outings in DC and how we remember them like they were yesterday. I'm gonna miss that, the prep to get to Broadway, as much as I will miss this beautiful, wonderful, lucrative run that we've had here the last two-plus years.
Jennifer: It's the longest run I've ever done.
Michael: Me too.
Jennifer: Both of us sacrificed a lot to stay with this project because we loved it so much. I'm very grateful that we reached a point where everything paid off, emotionally and financially. I never knew how excited I would be about being in a Tony Award-winning Best Musical. When it happened, I was so overjoyed. I never expected that kind of elation.
Michael: It's just so remarkable how much everyone felt the same way about getting that Best Musical Tony. We were such a close-knit group, that first group. Now that we're the last ones here, I don't know how I'm gonna feel not seeing you every single day, and cackling with you.
Jennifer: I will FaceTime you.
Michael: I see Will Roland too much. [pause] Sarcasm will not read well in print.
Was it a deliberate decision to leave together, or did it just work out that way?
Jennifer: I wanted to go together.
Michael: I'm glad that we're going together. The reason I've been here for the last three months is because of her, really.
Jennifer: Don't say that.
Michael: It's the truth. It's tough to play those Murphy parents. The work that goes into it is so intricate and so delicate. I'm glad we've had each other for this long.
Jennifer: I almost left in May, and I thought I should push a little more. The show means so much to me and I wanted to make sure it stayed in the lane, especially with all these new folks coming in. I didn't want to let it go because we weren't sure what would happen. There were so many people in flux. I think Michael and I both can say we felt like it was important for us to stay. Do you agree?
Michael: I do agree. It was adding Andrew Barth Feldman, and him being so young, and the parent change that we went through, and the attention being taken to Toronto and the tour, that made us feel like there was something that needed to happen here for a little while longer. It would be a lot to have such a huge change. The fact that Mallory [Bechtel] left, and we're leaving now, is a lot, too. But Andrew has taken over this role wonderfully. Gaby [Carrubba] has been here for a year and she's fantastic as Zoe. Sky [Lakota-Lynch] and Alex [Boniello] have been here a year now, so it's their roles. Everybody is in a good place.
How do you manage to keep it consistent over 1,000-plus shows?
Jennifer: I just let it happen. We'll be having a moment of total joy offstage and then we roll into the principal's office scene.
Michael: The principal scene really sets the tone for how the rest of the show is gonna go for me. Some nights, I'll say to you that I'm so tired, and then we get out there and we find something new. So you have to start at that first position.
Jennifer: The truth is, and Lisa Brescia has said this many times, it's our job. If we're phoning it in, we're terrible actors. I would never allow myself to do that.
Michael: And it takes a while to go deep into these characters. It's not something you can do for a weekend and be like, "That was fun!" People ask me all the time when we're outside signing, "Are you having fun?"
Jennifer: Oh god. That's the worst question.
Michael: I don't know how to answer that.
Jennifer: We have a lot of fun offstage.
Michael: We do have a lot of fun offstage. I can honestly say that before we go out for the principal scene, we are poking each other laughing. She's the best older sister I never had.
Jennifer: Older? How dare you!
Michael: We're like twins, in a way. It's fantastic.
Jennifer: Are you saying I'm an asshole, too?
Michael: Wow. Wow. [pause] That has to go into print.
How has doing this show impacted the way you parent your own children?
Jennifer: Having been with the show for so long, I've found that the things I worried about with my son at the age of 10 when we started are different than the things I worry about now at 15. I'm speaking to him more specifically than I would have before. Even out-of-the-blue questions like, "Is anyone bullying you?" I'm hyperaware. I think I might have been that way anyway, but this show has absolutely magnified that. There was a suicide at his school during the first two months of his freshman year, and my radar went up. We had to talk about it.
Michael: Being gone nights has been brutal for me, and asking my wife to pick up that slack has proven to be one of the most selfish things I can think of about doing a show 1,000 times. But my conversational skills, those fatherly instincts, have improved. Especially realizing the impact social media has. Pointing things out, reiterating that what you say isn't just between you and your friend. What you say can stay between you and your friend, but if she copies and pastes it, it can go to the whole school like that. My daughter learned a couple of lessons that way.
Jennifer and Michael, in unison: None.
Jennifer: I never got Cynthia's song that I always wanted, that would have addressed how passionately she cared for her son. But the fact that they couldn't write it, and that it wouldn't fit in the show…I have no regrets about that.
Michael: They've accommodated every ask that I've ever had, professionally and personally. This incredible production team has been there 100 percent for me. So no. None at all.
Have you learned how to break in a glove?
Jennifer and Michael: [laughs]
Michael: You know, what's interesting is, my friend sent me this recently about Pete Alonso, the Mets sensation. [reading from his phone] "His cooking education went beyond food. His father's approach to breaking in a baseball glove included lathering them in shaving cream and sticking them in the oven to loosen them up."
Jennifer: The oven? That would dry it out.
Michael: He admitted that he had a bit of a problem. He left one in a little too long and it singed the strings. [laughs] So there you go. The Mets sensation Pete Alonso. Turns out that is a viable way to break in a baseball glove. Good going, Steven Levenson.