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Ann Sanders and Ivan Hernandez on Bringing a New Perspective to ‘Dear Evan Hansen’

August 28, 2019 by Suzy Evans
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Ann Sanders and Ivan Hernandez are glad they had each other through their rehearsal process for “Dear Evan Hansen.” As the first actors take over the roles of the grieving parents Cynthia and Larry Murphy since the original performers Jennifer Laura Thompson and Michael Park left the cast, they felt the pressure coming into these established roles.

“Usually when you go into a show, it’s just you with the stage manager maybe and a couple of assistants,” Hernandez said. “But this was really a nice process to rehearse with Ann and [director] Michael Grief coming in, rehearsing with us and getting a chance to really work with the characters and sort of make them our own.”

Those days in the rehearsal room with Michael and with several different Evans would come in and rehearse with us,” Sanders added. “I mean those were some really great days.”

Sanders and Hernandez joined the cast on Aug. 6, and we sat down with the actors to talk about bringing their perspective to the roles, how they relate to the characters, and why diversity is important onstage.

How did you get cast in the show?
Ivan: I’ve been living in LA for the last few years, but I was here for a long time before that. So a lot of casting people still know me. They call me up once in a while and say, “Do you want to audition for this?” Most of the time I say no because I have a wife and kids, and it’s a pain to come here and try to figure out…Once in a while it’s worth it. It’s rare to get to deal with this kind of material and this kind of emotional material, especially in a musical.

Ann: About five years ago, I was walking back from an event with Michael Greif, our director. I had done “If/Then” with him, and, we were just chatting about what he was working on and he mentioned this new unnamed piece by Pasek, Paul, and Levenson. I remember I clocked it because he had like this glimmer in his eye when he was talking about the project. I thought, well, if he’s excited about this, I’m going to keep my eye on it. So when my agents called and said, “Hey, there’s an opportunity to join this show,” I jumped at it.

What parts of yourself do you bring to these characters?
Ann: About three years ago, we lost my brother-in-law to suicide, and we were very close. He’d come up and visit us in New York and come and see shows. I remember talking with him about his struggles with depression. I remember him saying, “You know, it’s not that you ever want to take your life or hurt yourself. It’s just that it’s so painful. It’s so painful you want the pain to stop.” So I keep hearing Scott’s voice in my head, and because of this show, I have been able to have conversations with my in-laws that I’m not sure I ever would have had…Every night, during “For Forever,” I’m remembering sitting at the kitchen table talking with my in-laws and crying and laughing and laughing while crying about memories about him. So I’m definitely carrying that with me each night onstage. I’ve never done this before, but I went ahead and dedicated this performance to him.

Ivan: You’ll always use parts of yourself when you act and then you put yourself in this world with the specifics that aren’t like your own life. I have children, but they’re younger. They’re 8 and 11 so it’s interesting to try to imagine them as teenagers and what they will go through. Those difficulties that you have as a parent with kids that age and how you respond to that

“Dear Evan Hansen” has a lot of devoted fans. Have you had any great interactions with the community?
Ann: Last night I know I met some people who have seen the show a lot and started mentioning the diversity aspect and representation. For me, growing up, my mom didn’t encourage me to go into theater. She didn’t discourage me, but she was worried as a parent. Because she couldn’t tangibly see anyone doing that. Sometimes when a picture first comes out of these are the new people playing these roles, if they are uncomfortable with it, it’s because they haven’t yet experienced it yet. Then it gets me thinking about my dad because I’m of mixed race. My Mom was Korean and my dad was Polish-American. So I’ve had great response and faith from our audiences. I believe that they will go on this ride with us, and see us as a family.

That’s awesome.

Ivan: It’s an interesting time right now. Things have changed very rapidly in the last few years in that respect. I think it’s a great thing. It’s also important to see that people of different ethnicities in where it’s not the main issue. They’re just regular people just like we are. That’s always interesting for me too, just to play a role who happens to be this ethnicity, but it’s not this defining characteristic, which is how I grew up. I wasn’t really aware of how different people would perceive me until I went into acting. After growing up in San Francisco, it was just normal. Then you get into acting and you get typecast. So, I felt a big difference in the last few years, I suppose, than when I first started out for sure.

Ann: So you just talking about that now sometimes it gets me thinking about Connor [Murphy] and what might’ve been going on with him and how he was feeling like an outsider. You know, growing up I certainly felt that way. So I really think that it helps audiences to see it in a different way. Maybe experience things in a different way, certain lines and things resonate differently. As I said, I am of mixed race so sometimes I didn’t feel like I fit in any, you know, a box, which maybe is good. I think about him feeling like an outsider and I definitely remember feeling that way myself growing up. It’s definitely getting better, but you carry those things with you.

Ivan: On the other hand, if the story is universal in that way, no matter what ethnicity or background, you go through difficult, painful family dynamics. Everybody has the stories in their family — no matter what race you are — that are difficult to handle. So I think that’s important too, to show that these differences, no matter what, you go through the same human struggles as everybody else.

It’s also really important to be like telling these stories through theater. Why do you think that this is a uniquely theatrical story?Ivan: Well, I think specifically it being a musical, music is an easy way for people to get into a show and excited about a show. You hear the music first and it’s sort of an easy way to get into the emotion of the show. I would say, not that it’s a distraction necessarily, but it’s sort of maybe an easy way for younger audiences to handle these difficult emotions. A great thing about musical theater is that it lends itself to a wider audience. So more people are exposed to these themes and these ideas, and then there’s also the experience of being in a theater with everyone else and they’re going through this cathartic experience together.

Get tix to “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway.