Broadway Series: Unsung Heroes of Theatre
Our final feature in the Broadway Series features an interview with the incredibly talented Michael Lee Brown. He is currently starring as the Alternate Evan Hansen and understudies Connor and Jared in the Tony Award winning musical, Dear Evan Hansen Broadway.
Michael is thrilled to make his Broadway debut in this moving and inspiring production. His other credits include Torch Song Trilogy (David, dir. Michael Kahn), Cinderella (Lionel) and starred in “Happyish” (Showtime).
The musical Dear Evan Hansen was launched into the spotlight in an era of social media. It mirrors what life is like today. People struggle to connect with each other face to face. Evan’s story follows issues of needing instant praise and the dilemmas that ensue as he attempts to find himself in the process. Lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul created an awe-inspiring original musical with writer Steven Levenson and stage director Michael Greif.
We talked to Michael about his Broadway Debut, his last minute understudy performances, how this genius show has impacted him and more.
See our interview below and in the video above!
Welcome to The Fame Reporter Michael, what was it that sparked your interest in performing initially?
I grew up outside Philadelphia about an hour or so from here in New York. My family has been very much involved in the arts. My brother is a musician and he did a lot of concerts, I used to go to them all of the time. My sister was a ballet dancer and so arts was very prominent in our family.
One of the first shows I saw was ‘Phantom of the Opera’, it is such a classic and why it has been around for over 30 years. When I saw that I was like ‘wow I really want to do Broadway’ and that show really inspired me at a young age. I got into music writing early on and acting. So I would go to Philadelphia and New York and audition as much as I could and I have been training ever since.
How has being part of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ impacted you thus far?
So many ways. One has been meeting such a great group of people and has become very much like a family, with the people on tour, the creatives and actors. It has been really great to get to know everybody. I have been with the show about 2 years now, so I feel very much apart of that family, which is nice. Also telling this story, it is a very wonderful tale that I think everybody should hear.
It talks about things that we all really need to talk about, so I think it’s very important that it went on tour, so a lot of people around the country and the world will get to see it.
Getting to play these awesome roles has been great. I cover the three boys Jared, Connor and Evan. That is what I started doing and now I am considered the ‘Alternate Evan Hansen’ because I play the role a couple times a week. Getting to perform that character every week is really cool to get the chance to develop the role as much as possible.
I feel like every time I go on stage I get to find more and more things about the character and the show that inspires me every time. As well as hearing all of the wonderful messages about how the show affects so many people because of the powerful messages and issues that it talks about.
That has been very inspirational and heartwarming to see how the show has helped so many people.
What has been your favourite moment alternately playing a lead character in your Broadway debut and what has Evan taught you?
I would say with the Broadway debut that was a really surreal experience. I went on for Jared the first time and that was my Broadway debut on January 1st of 2017. I liked it too because I had 3 hours notice, so it was nice to have my first time not thinking about it, I just went out and did it which was cool.
When I started going on for Evan Hansen it was nice to do Jared first and then do Evan. What is really interesting about playing these characters is you really get each perspective of the show. You see it in very different ways and learn about each character from all different perspectives.
Being part of it has taught me so much and seeing how much the character and messages have impacted people who see the show, has been such a life-changing experience for me and an eye-opener. I think the topic without giving anything away are super important and something I have always felt very passionate about.
When I was in college I got into writing and I read a screenplay about the issues that the show discusses and we all know people who were affected by it and it’s something that really needs to be talked about.
It was in my heart going into to the show and thought wow I feel passionate about this project and show.
Of course all of the people involved are special. I grew up listening to ‘Rent’ and ‘Next to normal’ that Michael Grief directed and Paesk and Paul I listened to their music for a while. So it has changed my life in so many ways because of that.
What is it like juggling your different roles and what does being a standby or understudy mean to you?
It’s a very fun job. However it is definitely a lot of work. In the beginning you are always trying to keep up with the parts and I had to learn them very quickly, especially the lines and blocking upfront, that’s all of the technical stuff. As it goes on you are able to dive deeper into the perspectives of the characters as well as the artistry and acting value behind it.
I still find new things every time I go on, ‘oh that’s a cool moment, I never thought of that or this is a different way of looking at that’ which is really cool. It’s really nice being a standby. It’s a really hectic job because you get a moments notice before you have to go on. But for me, the repetition of learning it and watching the show so much has made me so comfortable and confident that I can go on at anytime and I can switch it on.
What’s also been so nice by going on every week as Evan Hansen is that I can grow each week and be in it more and fulfilled by playing this great character.
There is a big difference between practicing and performing. As a Standby I cover three roles which is a lot of work, but these Swings who cover 9 – 16 tracks is unbelievable and they are brilliant people.
What did you learn working with the creative team, in particular, Director Michael Greif and what was the process behind rehearsing these roles?
I started when it went straight to Broadway. I got to see the original cast in the rehearsal studio. It started with me and the understudy’s just watching and just writing down what the original company were doing. We were told that we had to observe, get to know the lines and learn the part. Then after the show opened that’s when we started having our weekly understudy rehearsals and could put it on it’s feet.
It was cool because it was a different way of learning the part but I learned a lot from it. It was a great skill to develop. Working with the creative team was awesome and seeing the original cast perform and create the characters was super cool to see.
It’s a dream come true to be able to originate a part and to see them do that was really inspiring.
Michael Grief is an amazing and wonderful Director. What’s cool is he is so involved in the show even now. He always comes and checks in on us and gives us notes, even after 2 years of being open. Just last week he saw the show and gave some notes which is incredible because you feel like he is so passionate about the show, keeps you fresh and on your toes. When you are doing a part for so long, people say it feels like you are on auto-pilot and so this makes you feel like you can keep trying new things and continue to develop.
Tell us a little about your EP Way It Used To Be and what do you love about song writing?
I love songwriting so much. I love singing other people’s songs of course but it’s also nice to be able to sing your own songs. It has a different feeling to it. Just like performing in Dear Evan Hansen seeing how that impacts so many people, it’s fun to write a song and see all these peoples comments how they really enjoyed the songs.
I think what is cool about songs is usually, when you listen to a song you remember where you were when you first heard it and that’s why it is very nostalgic.
You think about it and remember a certain time and it reminds you of a moment. Oh I used to listen to these 90s pop songs and it reminds me of this… Or reminds me of when I was in middle school because I used to listen to that band or whatever. They are marks in your timeline of life. So for me, writing songs is so cool because you can do that for people which is fun. I am always trying to write and make more music and sometimes I showcase it at 54 Below.
What 3 performers dead or alive would you love to have a dinner party with?
Tom Hanks, I always loved his movies growing up. Michael Jackson for sure. I have always loved his music, it’s amazing all of the stuff that he has done and he is one of the best dancers ever. Steve Martin would be a good one. I met him because he came to the show so that was really cool. Then Martin Short came the next week which was incredible.
What do you hope audiences take away from ‘Dear Evan Hansen’?
I think the main thing I always stress is there is so many messages from the show that you can take away. I think the show is for everyone, it’s important and it is an all ages show.
What I think is super important is the whole concept of ‘time heals all wounds.’
Not to say that things aren’t hard still thinking back, but it is true that things get easier with time. When something feels so big and overwhelming at the moment that if you just give it time and you look back, it doesn’t seem as bad. Not to take away from it, something can be so traumatic and awful and you still have to deal with it. I am just saying that it is important to keep moving forward, which is a Walt Disney quote. Keep moving forward and understand that time does heal all wounds.
Fame Reporter Word Play
Shortest amount of time you’ve had to go on when someone calls out
An hour and a half. Well I also went on mid-show which was 5 minutes notice.
Favourite Song in Dear Evan Hansen
Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Paesk and Paul and Butch Walker.
Seagull, because I love the beach.
I want to get more into doing film and TV stuff. I’d also love to go to Italy and Australia.
Dream Co-star to work with
Finally, favourite thing about theatre?
I think that it is live. Everyone is in to social media today, which is great as there are a lot of positives to social media, but in the theatre you can just put it away and be in the show to enjoy the moment with everybody which is very important.
Thank-you for joining us at The Fame Reporter. We wish you all the best for your run in the incredible Dear Evan Hansen.
Check out Michael starring in the groundbreaking new musical, Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway playing at the Music Box Theatre in New York City.
Follow Michael’s adventures on social media here!
All photos – Supplied