Michael Park has had a successful career on Broadway and TV for years, but it’s his role as Larry Murphy in Dear Evan Hansen that has thrust him into the spotlight. Michael is someone who has the utmost respect for every human he meets, and it was quickly apparent to us how much admiration and love he has for the Broadway community. We spoke to him about his career and the journey leading up to Dear Evan Hansen.
You have a degree in art and originally intended to be an architect – what made you want to be an actor instead?
When I was a sophomore in college my wife (at the time my girlfriend) said, “hey, let’s audition for the college musical Guys and Dolls. That would be really fun. We would be able to do our homework in the back, probably get ensemble roles and stuff like that.” So I thought yes, that would be really fun as well, I guess, – but I am not going to get cast as anything because I am not a theater major, not a music major. And I was cast as Sky Masterson and she was not cast. I started really that love for theater my sophomore year of college and then soon after college I started doing a lot of community theater. We have got a great community theater kind of life in Rochester, New York with Blackfriars Theatre and the JCC is fabulous there. I did A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum by the JCC and again was asked to do another show and another show, and pretty soon, I wound up in New York.
It’s really kind of cool. That’s not a normal kind of path to New York, but John Bolton has a similar story. Started out doing community theater in Rochester, New York with Blackfriars. We were so surprised to find that out about ourselves on the street last week as a matter of fact.
You were on As the World Turns for 13 years – how does it feel to work on a show for so long?
Well, at first it’s a little daunting because the history of As The World Turns runs deep. I tried my best to follow the lead of Martha Byrne who played Lily and the guy who played my cousin Jon Hensley and the late Benjamin Hendrickson. You get to be friends with these people and they become family and getting to do a different script every day was a lot of fun and exhausting. It really honed my skills as an actor because I don’t have any kind of formal training. I was able to learn through osmosis if you will, or kind of leach the techniques of other people. Benjamin was in the first class at Juilliard. Martha Byrne was a child actor. So many people had worked on Broadway. Scott Holmes worked on Broadway. Liz Hubbard went to Harvard.
So you are the only one who didn’t have training as an actor?
I went there wide‑eyed and I just kept my head and learned so much in the process. Thankfully when they shut their doors 13 years later, Rob Ashford, who directed me in an Encores! show called Bloomer Girl was there to say, “hey, I hear you are done with the soap opera. Now we can welcome you back to theater and that’s when I did How to Succeed.
Do you have a preference between film or live theater as an actor?
There is no preference. I mean, they are completely different skill sets in a way. Very small way, but the technique is usually the same. I have three kids. Now it’s about putting them through college and making sure that everybody is happy and healthy.
Do any of your kids want to follow in your footsteps?
You know what? I think it’s too early to say because keep in mind my footsteps didn’t start really taking off until I was out of college. I would be more than supportive of that. My daughter Kathleen does community theater with Rosie O’Donnell’s daughter.
In How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying you shared the stage with Daniel Radcliffe, Darren Criss and Nick Jonas who are so well known and have massive fan followings. What was it like to work with them on that show?
It was great being the go‑between between John Larroquette & Daniel. The three of us would take our breaks out in the alley and just hang out and John Larroquette dubbed us the alley boys. I learned a lot from Daniel Radcliffe who happens to be the smartest person just in about any room you go to, as is John Larroquette. So being this fly on the wall, hanging out with those guys, listening to those great stories– there are a lot of them. Daniel at the time was 21 and he lived a life of a 40‑year‑old. The last installment of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows hadn’t come out yet and Daniel came over for Thanksgiving that year and I was the cool dad on the block. As far as Nick, Nick and I are good friends. We travel a lot together, play a lot of golf together.
You and Nick were both on the Broadway Show League softball team?
Yes. He started the softball team and again, another guy who is wiser than his years. It’s just great to hang around with people like that that continue to teach you and challenge you and make you a better actor, as well as a better human.
Tuck Everlasting was a wonderful show that unfortunately closed too soon. How does it feel when you invest so much time and effort into a project that ultimately doesn’t do well?
It’s heartbreaking. It really is. It’s heartbreaking for everyone, for the producers and the writers. I worked with Nathan Tysen and Chris Miller for so long on the show, seven years almost. The wonderful things that came out of that was that I got to work with Carolee Carmello again and Terrance Mann and Fred Applegate and I got to hang out with Casey Nicholaw who is so much fun to be around. And so smart and inventive and I trust in every tip he ever gave me about comedy because he is right on it all the time. So yes, it was heartbreaking to invest that much time, only to not be received well. It was tough because I got to be the silly dad, yet still have that very poignant, wonderful song in the second act.
“The Wheel.” And I miss that leather jacket.
What is your favorite memory from Tuck Everlasting?
My favorite memory is sitting in Terry Mann’s dressing room with Fred Applegate – or in Atlanta when Terry and I were dressing roommates together. I would say that my favorite memory is every time Fred would come in and the story would somehow turn to Fred Applegate and Terry and I would then kick him out of our dressing room. That was the best time we ever had – the constant ribbing each other. The three of us were inseparable really during that time and it was just wonderful to be around two legends, or three for that matter with Carolee Carmello.
You were in The Sound of Music and Peter Pan Live! – TV musicals seem to be the latest trend.
Yes. We were in the first one, Sound of Music Live!. 21 million viewers. It was such a novelty. We thought it was an enigma but it wasn’t.
Do you think they should do more TV musicals?
They are. You know, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Bob Greenblatt yesterday who is the head of NBC and I said, “remember when you guys were talking about doing Music Man?” Because the four pirates, Christian and Chris Sullivan and Austin Lesch, we wanted to be the quartet. That would be fun. So I kind of floated it out there again and he just chuckled, so I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I would love to do another one. I have the happy problem, the wonderful problem of being employed right now, so I don’t know how it would work.
It’s good to be employed though. Your show is doing really well.
But those shows are so much fun.
Dear Evan Hansen is a phenomenon on Broadway and so many people have been touched by the show. How does it feel to be a part of that?
To be part of a show that is about inclusion and acceptance and realizing your failures and forgiving yourself and getting to tell this wonderful story with this incredible cast and to be in a room with Michael Greif, all of these experiences and everything I just mentioned has been an unadulterated joy. There are no superlatives really that are worthy of using when explaining how I feel about being part of the show and I have learned a lot about myself as a father and I learned a lot about fathers in general and child‑rearing because of it and so have my kids. They have learned a lot about themselves and learned a lot about me, so I will forever be thankful for the show.
What is the most challenging aspect of playing Mr. Murphy?
The principal scene. The principal scene is the foundation of the relationship between Cynthia and Larry, the initial meeting Evan, the realization of loss of a son. It’s just the hardest thing to do every day, every night, to imagine or kind of put yourself in the place of a parent who has lost a child this way. I say it every night when I go out to sign that you never want to ask me “are you having fun.” It’s so hard to answer that question. People who know the show know that my son commits suicide in the second scene and so to live in those shoes, to be a part of this story because of that reason – it’s a task I would not want any parent to have to realize and to live through.
Do you feel like you’ve developed a parental bond, working with Laura Dreyfuss and Mike Faist?
Oh, yes. We had such a wonderful time in D.C. together. I mean, I had known Mike for a while. We had done a number of readings together. Seems like we had been in a ton of readings together and just spent a lot of time with him, and Laura Dreyfuss, meeting her and having her as my fake daughter has just been a blessing because my daughter Annabelle wants so badly to be Laura Dreyfuss. Getting to know her in D.C. and then of course, getting to know her better when she would come to the house. We went apple picking together. Spending time with this cast away from New York where all we had was each other, we grew very, very, very close. I think that’s part of the success of this show, is that you are not afraid and we feel safe being vulnerable in front of each other. I thank Stacey Mindich, our producer for keeping us all together.
If Connor was your actual son, would you have been proud or disappointed in him?
It’s a hard question. I wouldn’t be proud of myself. I don’t think that’s a fair question actually. That’s not because I don’t think anyone who is hurting like that should be judged in any way. And I wouldn’t be proud of him for killing himself at all. But that’s the journey of Larry, is learning how to forgive his failures. And Cynthia grasping for what she could have done differently. I am normally an advocate – I talk to my kids. I force them to talk to me. Ad nauseam. I don’t know how to answer that question.
Mike Faist told us that he doesn’t think of Connor as a bully, he is just misunderstood– do you agree?
I definitely don’t think he is a bully. That would be the wrong kind of label to put on him. Is he misunderstood? Absolutely. Is he hurting? Absolutely. Is he lost? Absolutely. And he is closed off, so it’s hard to reach people that way, which is why I really can’t stress enough that if you are feeling lost and alone, you are not alone. We all went through it. And that’s what this show kind of highlights, if you are feeling alone, if you are feeling lost, it’s natural to feel that way. Everyone has felt that way. And there are outlets to seek out to help you get through this rocky, rocky time in your life.
As a parent, have you had to deal with bullies? What would you tell your kids if they were being bullied or bullying others?
I had to deal with bullies as a kid. I use that as fodder sometimes for Larry Murphy. Christopher, my son was bullied a couple times. You know, it’s not the kid’s fault who is bullying him. That kid is just acting out, trying to, I don’t know, prove something to himself, prove something to someone and he is lost too. So being there to listen and to not react. You know, your reaction is the hardest thing to control. Because I am going to march right down there and talk to the principal – no. You can’t – I don’t know if that’s the right or wrong. It depends on the situation. Every bullying situation is different. Christopher Park handled it himself. He went to the principal’s office himself and he talked with the counselors there and they wanted to know how to discipline that child. My son is beyond his years.
I went to my parents. My parents went to the principal and I am friends with the kid who bullied me. To this day.
My daughter Annabelle tends to step on a line sometimes too. She can be a little tough and so I don’t know if she would be considered a bully or if she is being bullied but – and I don’t want to generalize in any sense, but I think girls have different issues obviously than boys do. Bullying can be very subtle and kids are so mean. Adolescence sucks. And middle school kids can be mean. High school can be just a tough place to be sometimes. But you are not alone in feeling that way.
You have been part of so many musicals over the years. Are there any that stand out?
All of them. For so many wonderful reasons. Hello Again. Violet. Even Carousel which I didn’t get to go on, but I met so many friends there. That’s where I first met Lauren Ward and later we were in Violet together and it was great. So many wonderful shows. Little Me where Michael McGrath, Brooks Ashmanskas, and Martin Short would make everybody pee in their seats. They were so funny. Yes. I have had a very wonderful career to this point.
What’s the worst onstage mishap that you can remember?
We were doing Smokey Joe’s Cafe and I was in the middle of the shimmy number and I fell off balance and DeLee Lively got mad at me and stormed off the stage. I remember feeling really awful, like what do I do now. I didn’t mean to fall off balance. So I had to finish the song by myself and that was not a very fun moment in my life.
The other one was when I went up on my lines in “Secretary Is Not A Toy” and for some reason the word “perfect” came out of my mouth. I don’t know why, but everyone laughed. For weeks, people would just come up behind me and go “perfect.” But that’s about it.
You know, I have nothing really funny to tell you. See, the first one was a little heartbreaking and second one was just me being stupid, but I come up with different ad libs. If I ever make a mistake or something goes wrong, you write your own ad libs.
If you had the chance to play any character; regardless of age, sex or race, what role would you play?
Billy Bigelow. I already played him and Bobby in Company which I think is a perfect – you know what? I am coming up to it. Sweeney Todd.
What is your favorite thing about New York City?
I love this community that we have. I love the Broadway community. I love going to different places after a show and running into someone you haven’t seen in a long time. You never know who you are going to run into here. It’s kind of a wonderful neighborhood that we have. I love the different neighborhoods of Manhattan.
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