Gabrielle Carrubba On Going from Understudy to Star in ‘Dear Evan Hansen’
Gabrielle Carrubba is living every understudy’s dream. She joined the “Dear Evan Hansen” company almost a year ago as a vacation understudy, covering roles while performers took breaks and then she go bumped up to bonafide understudy, covering Zoe Murphy and Alana Beck when the main cast couldn’t go on.
But this month, she got a promotion: She’s playing Zoe Murphy, the quiet, artistic student who befriends the titular character, full time on Broadway.
“It’s just a dream come true,” Carrubba says sitting backstage at the Music Box Theatre. “That’s so cheesy, but it is.”
A recent graduate of Boston Conservatory, Carrubba started performing at a young age, participating in her high school shows and pursuing the actor’s life. She loves the community of “Dear Evan Hansen,” which centers on a young boy looking for belonging and acceptance, which has ignited a community of “Fansens” who cling to the show’s anthem and message of “You Will Be Found.”
“I loved theater so much because of the sense of community,” Carrubba said. “The theater kids all stuck together and it was so cool that I got to major in theater. People get a degree in being a theater kid, which is so amazing.”
We sat down with Carrubba to talk about her introduction to the Tony-winning musical, why she loves Zoe Murphy, and how the show affects audiences.
What was your introduction to the show?
Someone told me that I’d be a really good Zoe in this Pasek and Paul musical. And I was like, well, I love P and P, so I must listen to “Requiem,” the song that everyone’s telling me to sing. And as soon as I heard it, I was like, “Okay, good thing I’m going to be on an airplane in a few hours.” So I just listened to the cast recording and silently sobbed next to these strangers.
When was the first time you saw the show?
I had not seen it until the first week of my rehearsal process. I silently sobbed in the back while Taylor Trensch was just being a genius. And I was so excited to get to dig in.
What do you love about Zoe?
I love Zoe because she’s the most empathetic character. She understands Evan. She understands her parents. She understands most things. And I think that is such a difficult trait to have and to write in a character, and [writer] Steven Levenson did such an amazing job of making her so complex, and so understanding, and so smart. She’s also like the coolest person ever.
What makes her the coolest person ever?
I think her ability to not judge anyone. Like she can calm down Evan just by looking at him, and that’s something so beautiful about their relationship. And how she can fully understand every social situation for what it is — whether it be a lie, whether it be the truth, whether it be Evan’s discomfort. She is so perceptive.
Do you relate to Zoe? Are there ways you bring yourself to the character?
I try not to think about that because I just want to trust that me as Gabi and me as Zoe is enough, and that’s okay. And that my essence and my instincts and my impulses as an actor are enough to complement Zoe’s.
I also think I’m kind of weird and lanky and quirky in real life, so I like to bring that to Zoe as well.
What were you like in high school?
I was in band. Well, I actually was asked to not be in the band because I wasn’t good. They suggested I go to choir, and so I did. I was so obsessed with singing all the time, and theater.
Did you do theater in high school?
Yeah, I did a couple plays, or a couple musicals. I was Little Cosette in “Les Mis,” and I was Marian the Librarian in high school. I was actually taller than the woman who played Cosette. Yeah, I was the young version, and then she grew up and shrunk a couple of inches.
What are some of the favorite musicals you’ve seen and what made you want to kind of pursue theater?
This is so ridiculous, but all the musicals directed by Michael Greif. I can’t even believe I am in a show that he’s directed. But I think the way that he has directed characters to be so fragile and vulnerable and that be okay, and not just the epitome of a musical theater girl where they wear heels and a dress. You can be a woman in theater and still wear pants and still have feelings and still be a young person trying to navigate adulthood. I mean “Next To Normal,” “Rent,” “Grey Gardens.” I’m not even just saying that because he directed this. I think in all the musicals that he’s directed, I saw a glimpse of myself in.
How do you think “Dear Evan Hansen” is helping high schoolers with similar struggles to the characters?
It’s crazy to talk to high schoolers that are currently going through this and needing to hear that they’re not alone with their anxieties, and that’s the beautiful thing about the show, is that it’s so resourceful. You literally look online, on the “Dear Evan Hansen” website, there are links to so many hotlines, and so many resources. I wish I knew about that when I was in high school.
You started out as a vacation cover. What do you wish people understood about understudies?
These are the most hardworking people on Broadway. Truly. If you are a standby or a swing or an understudy, that means that that actor has to be good at every single role. Not to discredit the main onstage cast, because now I am one and I can embody Zoe fully. These people are ready and they’re professional and they’re amazing, and they can do the job just as well as any of the onstage cast members. I’m so thankful that I got to have this opportunity to be an understudy and step up into this role.
How does it feel to have so many new people joining the cast?
I think the new energy in the cast keeps the show fresh. And we are entrusted to tell the story, just like the people who originated the roles did. And the team has trusted us to continue spreading the message of Dear Evan Hansen. And I think with Ivan [Hernandez], with Ann [Sanders], with me, Andrew [Barth Feldman], all these new people, the audience is going to perceive the story in a brand new way. And maybe they’re going to connect to a new character in a new way.
What is something that you hope people walk away from the show with?
You are not alone is such a huge theme of the show, and it’s repeated for a reason. You may feel like you’re the only person who feels this way and that nobody understands, but there will always be somebody that understands and will hear you, and wants to hear you and will listen, if you just are willing to share your story. If you want to talk about it, start the conversation. That’s the hardest step.