“No one’s a perfect parent,” says Michael Park, who plays Connor’s father, Larry Murphy, in Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen. Their flaws are what make them human.
In a candid conversation before a Friday night performance of Dear Evan Hansen, Park, his onstage wife, Jennifer Laura Thompson (Cynthia Murphy), and Rachel Bay Jones (Heidi Hansen) gathered in the backstage Blue Room at the Music Box Theatre to reveal their teenage struggles and share what it’s like to be a parent outside of Evan Hansen.
Role: Larry Murphy, father to Connor and Zoe
In high school “I was lost there for a while,” Park admits. “I was a lot like Evan and Jared combined. I wanted everyone to like me.” The theme of loss hits close to home for Park; his sister died when he was a junior, “so I understand the way Zoe feels: ‘All of a sudden people are weird around me because they don’t want to bring up what’s going on in my personal life.” Around the same time, he was cast as Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie, “and that’s when my life changed a little bit. People were starting to take notice…and it gave me some solace, in a way, being with that group.”
He has three children, ages 19, 17, and 12. After seeing Dear Evan Hansen, his 17-year-old daughter Kathleen admitted, “Sometimes I feel like Connor.” Park said, “That took me aback, but what was wonderful about this conversation is that I also realized, as strict of a disciplinarian as I may be, [there is] openness that we have as a family to sit down and talk about subjects like this. She completely opened up and was able to reveal what was going wrong. It wasn’t friends bullying her… It was just the way she felt. She felt lost.”
He’s learned from the show. “The flaws in Larry Murphy have allowed me to not commit those flaws as a parent,” he says. “I see a lot of Larry Murphy in a lot of parents.”
Jennifer Laura Thompson
Role: Cynthia Murphy, mother to Connor and Zoe
In high school “I was a goth girl,” Thompson says. “I dyed my hair black [and would] drive down to Detroit when I was like 14- and 15-years-old and go see Red Hot Chili Peppers.” Then she found theatre. “The reason I fell in line with [the drama club] was that I had a crush on a boy who was already involved, who was older, and that’s why I auditioned for the first musical of my entire life. … Sophomore year, I got the lead [Adelaide in Guys and Dolls], and then I was that girl.”
She has a 13-year-old son, who has not seen the show. “I don’t want him to see the show because I don’t think he’s emotionally prepared to watch me personally grieve to the level that I do in the show,” she admits. “He’s very sensitive of my feelings.”
Recently, she found a home video from when her son was five. “It was such a precious moment,” she says, “and it brought me to tears, and he didn’t understand why. I said, ‘Most of my life I spend thinking about the regrets as a parent—the things I did wrong and failed you—and this is a reminder that I was on the right path.’”
Rachel Bay Jones
Role: Heidi Hansen, mother to Evan
In high school “I was always really shy and struggled a lot with depression early on,” Jones admits. “Everyone liked me—if I was on their radar—but I deliberately hid. I wore all black, and my best friends and I got really into the punk rock scene in South Florida and Miami. … I don’t remember how I fell into the drama club. I think I just [gravitated] toward it because my parents had been actors…but I always credit that with saving my life because I was pretty messed up, and it gave me a place to go.”
She has a 13-year-old daughter, who says that Dear Evan Hansen is her favorite show. “I feel really glad that we have this show for our teenagers to come and see and that we’re a part of something—a part of this discussion—that, going forward, might open them up,” she says.
The highest praise is when “my daughter still wants to snuggle and says, ‘You’re the best mom,’” she says. “Each time it happens, there’s no greater joy. There’s no applause that can compete with that. There’s nothing that can compete with that.”