Interview: Nikhil Saboo and Pablo David Laucerica of DEAR EVAN HANSEN at Ottawa's National Arts Centre

Nikhil and Pablo shared some insightful thoughts on their characters and reflections on the show’s key themes

By: Aug. 04, 2022
Interview: Nikhil Saboo and Pablo David Laucerica of DEAR EVAN HANSEN at Ottawa's National Arts Centre
Anthony Norman (Evan Hansen), John Hemphill (Larry Murphy), Lili Thomas (Cynthia Murphy), Alaina Anderson (Zoe Murphy), in the 2022-2023 North American Tour of DEAR EVAN HANSEN. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

As part of the 2021-2022 season, Broadway Across Canada is bringing the Tony Award winning musical, Dear Evan Hansen, to Ottawa's National Arts Centre this month. Dear Evan Hansen tells the story of Evan, an anxious, bullied teenager, who become wrapped up in a lie so big that it spirals his life out of control. I caught up with Nihkil Saboo, who plays Connor Murphy and Pablo David Laucerica, who plays Jared Kleinman, who were both on a well-deserved break before beginning the Ottawa leg of the tour. They shared some thoughts on their characters and reflections on the show's key themes.

We are so excited to finally see Dear Evan Hansen in Ottawa and to welcome you to Canada's capital city. Pablo, what has been the best part of touring for you so far, given that this is your first national tour?

Pablo: I love to travel so, for me, it feels like I have been granted this wonderful opportunity to explore as much of North America as I can while doing something that I love to do. What's weird - and what I love about it - is that the constant thing is actually the show itself. The context in which you are performing the show changes: what city you're in, what theatre you're performing in, what audience is watching. All that changes, but the show remains the same. What I find the most interesting is the different audiences and how they can react to certain things differently in the same show. For example, when we were at the Ahmanson Theatre in L.A., the audience was closer to us than they were, for example, in Boise, Idaho. In Boise, they had an orchestra that they needed to cover, so there was a bit more distance physically between me and the audience. In L.A., I found myself hearing people in the first two rows chuckle a little bit more at some of the tiny things that I do on stage, whereas in Boise, people were further away.

Nikhil: Or maybe it's us, offstage, just laughing at everything because you're so funny? [Laughs.]

Nikhil, what do you find the hardest part about touring, seeing as you have done lengthy tours before, like with the Angelica Company tour of Hamilton?

Nikhil: Remembering what city you were in two weeks ago! Or remembering what your bed or your room looks like! But seriously, it's easy for things to become a blur and it is a constant reminder to really stay present in your day, since we don't really live a "normal" lifestyle. Of course, missing family and friends back home can be hard. I may get a random ping in my chest, where I think - wow - I really miss my grandmother or a certain friend, so that can be tough sometimes.

What is has been your favourite role that you have played to date and why?

Pablo: For me, it's pretty easy! This is my favourite role I've done so far because I can relate to Jared in so many ways and there's literally a running bit among the cast where they will say, "Oh, Pablo, you're just dressed in your normal street clothes" when I'm in costume or "Are you trying to dress like Jared today?". Because this is just how I dress: a long button up over a tee is what I wear all the time. And I just think that Jared is such a comedic character and he has a lot of depth. Steven Levenson [book writer] and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul [words and music] really put in the work to make sure that every character is fully flushed out and I'm very grateful for that ... as much as I loved playing the King's Attendant at Chicago Shakespeare in All's Well That Ends Well (where I had a great one line) ... [Laughs.]

Well, at least you weren't the tree, right? [Laughs.]

Pablo: Hey listen, I've been the tree before, and I may end up being the tree again! [Laughs.]

Nikhil: It's interesting, for me when I think about it, this role really does mean the most to me. With our collective experiences over the past couple of years and for Connor to come into my life ... this role has allowed me to look back on my high school years and to realize that I was alone during those times, and it has forced me to push myself and it has taught me a lot about human connections. In a way, Connor Murphy has taught me a lot and that is why it is my favourite role to date. I know that the role can sometimes be seen as dark, but for the seventeen minutes that I'm on stage, it has been wonderful to peel back every layer of the onion that the role has. I only have a limited number of words to be able to tell his story, so that is a wonderful exercise for me to do.

Pablo: Shadowing what Nikhil said earlier, I am also backstage while he is doing his scenes but, instead of laughing, I'm probably crying [laughs] or I'm watching him in awe with my jaw wide open because you can tell the impact that Nikhil's performance has on every single member of the audience; it's incredible. The number of people that see themselves in Nikhil as Connor and, more specifically, that Connor's character is a mirror image of Evan. Nikhil, it's no wonder that this is your favourite role - because you are so phenomenal in it!

Nikhil: It was really my goal to try to humanize Connor as much as possible, so I really do appreciate that, Pablo, thank you.

Pablo, can you explain Jared's relationship with Evan and maybe touch a little on how Jared's words and actions don't necessarily represent how they truly feel?

Pablo: Absolutely; this is something that I have thought about a lot. On paper, Jared is family friends with Evan because Jared's mom is friends with Evan's mom and they've seen each other at family reunions. We went into this during my first week of rehearsals in New York where we dove into the characters. Essentially, Jared likes Evan and has always liked Evan, but Jared is such an insecure person - just like all the teens in the show who are struggling in some way. Jared is struggling as much as Evan, but his coping mechanism is humour. The way that Jared communicates some of his affection for Evan is by making fun of him. So when he's joking with Evan during the first scene or during "Sincerely, Me", Jared is trying to convince himself that he's cooler than Evan but, really, he loves Evan in a certain way and sees himself reflected in him. That has been challenging for me because it's easy, when you read the script, to turn around and say, "wow, Jared is a d**k!", because he is so mean, but it is all coming from a place of insecurity. There is also this affection he has for Evan that he struggles to express. Over the course of the show, you see the relationship grow and Jared starts to let go of his insecurities and starts to become Evan's actual friend. It's a very interesting relationship between Jared and Evan and the script does a great job of conveying it.

Nikhil, what is it about playing Connor that you find the most challenging and what would you like audiences to know about your character?

Nikhil: The hardest part about playing Connor is that I only get to show the audience one day of his life - and it's the day that he commits suicide. It all boils down to that one day for him, whereas everyone else gets to grow their relationships for weeks on end. That's the difficult part about playing Connor and I wanted to humanize him as much as possible. You don't get to see him in his actual breathing life form for pretty much the entire show. There are two moments that I've made for myself when I am Connor: one is at the orchard and the spirit of Connor is there. And one is in a moment after "Words Fail", where I walk down and look at Evan. For some reason, I just love that moment. I don't say anything; I just walk down the stage. And, interestingly, I am the only Connor that has never missed that entrance! The wonderful part is trying to consolidate him into just one day. One thing that I would like people to understand is that, although Connor and Evan have different upbringings, they are going through a very similar experience. I would love for people to realize that Connor isn't different from anyone. In a way, we are all alone or have felt alone or felt pressured by the world or have been misunderstood or felt pangs of anxiety. After they see the show, I would love for audiences to go up to that one person that they may not understand or that one family member that they haven't really talked to in a while and ask them "How are you?" or something like that. That's something that I would like people to learn from Connor.

That's amazing; thank you. Now, let's move on to a lighter note. Do you have a favourite song from the show?

Pablo: My favourite song is "So Big / So Small", the song that Heidi sings to Evan. It's the penultimate song of the show. The storytelling is so simple, but evocative, and I find it fascinating because it comes at a moment in the show where the anxiety levels are so high; everyone is catching on to Evan's lie and things are just piling up, and what the audience needs at that moment is a hug from Mom and that is exactly what "So Big / So Small" does.

Nikhil: Oh Pablo! You've just put that so perfectly!

Pablo: It is though, right? It's the musical embodiment of a big hug from Mom - saying that everything is going to be okay. It's what Evan needs, it's what the audience needs and, narratively, it's what the story needs. And it does so much in such a simple way. I'm a big music theory nerd, so let it be known that the chords at the beginning of "So Big / So Small" are the exact same chords in "Waving Through a Window", just a whole step down, and it narratively and thematically connects Evan and Heidi. I could go on for hours about it, but I won't [laughs].

Interview: Nikhil Saboo and Pablo David Laucerica of DEAR EVAN HANSEN at Ottawa's National Arts Centre
Anthony Norman (Evan Hansen), Coleen Sexton (Heidi Hansen) in the 2022-2023 North American Tour of DEAR EVAN HANSEN. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Nikhil: I love "Only Us". I have said in other interviews that I love it so much that I work out to it! It's such a soaring piece. For work that I love to sing and perform, it's a tie between "Sincerely, Me" and "Disappear". I love that Connor gets to put all his energy into it. And it's also wonderful in "Sincerely, Me" that I get to look into people's eyes. Well, it's not peoples; it's just Evan's. But I sort of decided that when the three of us are dancing ...

Pablo: Oh, I know!

Nikhil: I look directly at Jared.

Pablo: That was never coordinated. I just caught onto that moment and now it's one of my favourite moments on stage.

In general, what do you think about the fact that there are so many more movie adaptations of musicals these days, as well as musicals filmed live on stage, like Hamilton. Do you think it enhances the audience's experience or detracts from it when they see a show they have previously seen in another format?

Nikhil: I love that it has created an outlet for theatre to be more accessible but, as more shows have been coming out, I've realized that there is just nothing like seeing it live. Even with Hamilton, which I think did a wonderful job, there is just so much storytelling going on - especially for me, knowing the ins and outs of it. There are so many small details added that, even though I love seeing the close ups that you don't get to see as a theatregoer, there is so much more to be seen on stage. Even with the movie version of Dear Evan Hansen, you don't get that circular energy that being in the theatre gives. Even if you're in the balcony, you can feel the energy of what happens on stage. I think that's magical. As you can see, I'm very conflicted [laughs]. I will always encourage people to see the show. And every time there is someone I know that goes to see a show for the first time, they are just in awe of how amazing it was.

Pablo: I think accessibility always needs to be improved in the theatre space. I think it's a wonderful tool to have recordings of a live project or a movie version, but there is nothing like watching live there. Even for me on stage, I can feel the energy of the audience and that affects my performance subconsciously. That's just something that cannot be done with a movie. But that goes to something that I believe needs to happen - that theatre, in general, should try to be more accessible to anyone who wants to watch live theatre.

Sometimes integral scenes or important numbers are cut from the movie version. What would you say to people that have already seen the Dear Evan Hansen movie based on the musical?

Pablo: As someone who has seen the show live and has seen the movie, I just believe that they are two completely separate pieces of art. They added songs for the movie and they cut songs from the musical. I don't think that either version detracts from the other. Obviously, if you have seen the movie, you will be familiar with the story, but they are so different and I always recommend to anyone watching the musical, to notice those differences and notice what you like more about one version over the other. I think that comparing and contrasting art is an important thing to do and allows you to gauge your taste as a consumer.

Nikhil: I love that, Pablo, and I completely agree that they are separate pieces of art. I also believe that one story doesn't only need to be told one way. I love that the message in this show can be told is as many ways as possible. The movie is one angle on the message and the show is another take on it. If you come to see the show after you have seen the movie, you will still be surprised at the differences.

Pablo: My favourite musical of all time is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The musical version at the Paper Mill Playhouse was so different from the movie version. It's very similar but still so different and I find that they are both so valid. It is fascinating to see how stories can be told in different ways.

Nikhil: Also, it's not all about me, but I'm just saying that you'll see a lot more Connor in the show! [Laughs.]

Pablo: And you'll see more Jared too!

There you go; we now have the number one reason to go see the show [laughs].

Some people just want to go to the theatre for a good time and just be entertained. How important do you think it is that musicals try to tackle the tough subjects too, like bullying and mental health issues?

Pablo: I'm a big advocate for art being parallel to the society that we live in and to tell important, relevant stories. I think that there is a time and place for both types of shows. Shows that you can just go to and have fun - like Cats or The Lion King, where it is a beautiful spectacle. And even then, those stories still have depth to them. But then you take a story like Dear Evan Hansen that is a smaller, more intimate show and it dives deep into important, sensitive subjects. Stories like Dear Evan Hansen need to continue to be told because if art like this is no longer made - art about the world that we currently live in - then we have no space for reflection and I think that is something that everyone needs to have. If you don't surround yourself with art or something else that makes you reflect some of the harder things in life, I feel as though you aren't getting that opportunity to learn about yourself.

Nikhil: I love that art can be a mirror. In line with the message that we have today about human connections, with this show and with shows that may be a little harder to chew on, there are what I love to call the "car conversations", when everyone has left the theatre and they get back into their car and have those fifteen minutes on the ride home to digest what they saw. I wish I could be a passenger in people's cars and listen to those conversations to find out what aspects of the show they may have related to. This show is relatable to so many types of relationships - familial relationships, friendships; it is important to find those places where art is a mirror to oneself and it's a wonderful way to invite new conversations and to reflect. Even though the show may deal with difficult subjects, I love how it can, perhaps, start turning some gears that haven't been turned before in people's conversations.

Pablo: Although that doesn't mean that there isn't space for shows like A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder or Something Rotten or Aladdin; pure fun shows are also necessary because sometimes you don't want to deal with things and it's pure escapism.

In Dear Evan Hansen, Evan makes some questionable decisions and can be viewed as manipulative and unsympathetic, or even as the villain of the story. What is your take on that?

Pablo: Oh Evan! [Laughs.]

Nikhil: It is interesting when I hear people say that Evan is the villain. We have all been in a situation where a lie was present. In a way, we have all been Evan. I want to think that he is just real, rather than a villain. That's the beautiful thing about how complicated the characters are; that they can't simply be categorized into neat little boxes.

Pablo: When consuming any media, I think it is important to try to understand what the overarching message is. You can see certain good intentions that a character has even when they may be making all kinds of bad decisions and that makes you empathetic towards that character. When Evan is making these mistakes, I can see why audiences get so frustrated with him: they want him to be better. But that is the beauty of this show; it is saying that you can make mistakes and that the goal of life is to become a better person and to be happy with who you are. I think that Evan is someone who makes mistakes but by the end of the show - regardless of whether you believe that he got everything he deserved in terms of consequences - he realizes his mistakes and tells himself to be a better person. That is what I think is so admirable about the way Dear Evan Hansen was written and it is something that we, as a society and as human beings, want to emulate. We all want to learn from our mistakes and become better.

I think you have already summed it up beautifully, but is there any other message that you want audiences to take away with them after they have seen Dear Evan Hansen?

Pablo: I would love to have the dialogue create a spark to start conversations about mental health, especially with young people.

Nikhil: I know we have touched on it before, but truly I hope that people understand the power of connection and conversation.

Speaking of the power of connection and conversation, do you think that if Connor had had a greater connection with the people around him, his outcome could have been different?

Nikhil: There is a point in the show when Connor is at the computer lab and goes to talk to Evan and it is such a delicate point in the show for me because this is Connor taking his first opening in however long, and he tries to start a conversation, but then there is a miscommunication and that's just the way the story goes. But I believe that it only takes one person to make a change and, if things had happened a little differently, maybe Evan could have been that one person for Connor. That's what I love to believe. Which is why it can be so important to go up to that person that you think maybe needs to have a conversation. Since I started the show, I have deliberately had those conversations with friends and family members, and it has made our relationships so much deeper and more meaningful.

Nikhil Saboo and Pablo David Laucerica will be performing in Broadway Across Canada's presentation of Dear Evan Hansen at Ottawa's National Arts Centre from August 9th through August 14th. To purchase tickets or for more information about the show, please click Click Here.

In the spirit of making theatre more accessible to audiences, Broadway Across Canada has announced a digital lottery for every performance of Dear Evan Hansen. The lottery opens on August 5, 2022. Lottery winners will be able to purchase up to two tickets at a reduced rate of $25 per ticket. Entrants are encouraged to follow Dear Evan Hansen on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for additional lottery news and information. More information can be found here.

* Note this interview has been edited for length and conciseness.



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