BWW Interview: Stephanie LaRochelle of DEAR EVAN HANSEN Talks About California, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Erasing the Stigma
In this digital age, we all want to be seen and heard-and not just online. As sentient beings, we crave and thrive on human interaction and affection. Perhaps this pertains to no group as much as teenagers, whose self-worth relies heavily (and sometimes solely) upon the image reflected back to them by their peers. With this comes depression, isolation, and incredible pressure. Catapulting these issues to the forefront of everyone's consciousness is the six-time Tony Award-winning musical, Dear Evan Hansen. On its first national tour, it stops in Sacramento on January 15 at the newly renovated Memorial Auditorium. Stephanie LaRochelle, who plays the role of Zoe Murphy, recently spoke to Broadway World Sacramento about touring with the show that has been dubbed, "one of the most remarkable shows in musical theatre history," by Peter Marks of The Washington Post.
How are you enjoying winter in California? It must be quite a change from the weather you're used to!
I'm from Canada originally so this is incredible. If you call this winter, this is the best!
This year, our season of shows will be in the beautiful, historic Memorial Auditorium, which was built in 1927. What theatre have you performed in that you would suggest we add visiting to our bucket list?
The first one that comes to mind is the Fabulous Fox in St. Louis. It's just stunning. The lobby itself has animals that have a zoo vibe and the theatre is massive and beautiful. The architecture is amazing.
You were 1 of 6 finalists in the Canadian Country Music Association's Discovery Program. What is the country music scene like in Canada?
That was a couple of years ago and they used to have a Discovery Program that was like an incubator for emerging artists. Six of us spent time in Toronto working. It's a way to network and learn about the industry and it's more like a training program. I'd say America is a lot larger so the scale is bigger but there is quite a big country music scene in Canada. There are a lot of Canadians living in Nashville and working the scene. It's booming for sure and I think that genre is killing it all over.
Country music and musical theatre seem so different. What drew you to audition for Dear Evan Hansen?
To give you sort of a back story, I grew up doing community theatre and right after high school I was on a reality tv show called "Over the Rainbow," which was a search for Dorothy. It was Andrew Lloyd Webber's project and I was the runner-up and that opened doors to working in tv and film. I always considered myself a singer first, so I started focusing on original music and tv and film. When this popped up I thought that this show was raw and intimate and it felt like a movie on stage. The music was kind of pop heavy, so it was something that I was interested in. The music isn't super traditional musical theatre, it's very contemporary for sure.
You're quite active on YouTube. Can you tell us about your channel? In 2009 it was ranked #20 "Most Viewed YouTube Musicians-Today."
Back in the day they had a ranking system, so one of my cover videos was ranked #20 most viewed in Canada. I do mostly cover songs and I like to throw in a vlog once in a while. Especially being on tour since we hit up some cool spots.
Featured on your YouTube channel is your arrangement with Alex Lacamoire (also of Hamilton fame) of "Only Us." What was the significance of recording that in the Bluebird Café in Nashville?
That was a dream come true. I hadn't been to Nashville and the tour stopped there and I thought it would be a great idea to showcase some of the singer-songwriter background I have. It was a full-circle, beautiful moment to do it there and work with Alex on that arrangement.
I'm not familiar with that café. Does it have a particular place of importance in the music scene?
You've done a lot of film with roles in shows such as Disney's "Backstage" and CBC's "Heartland." Are you planning on returning to film after this tour is over, or do you see yourself delving deeper into the world of musical theatre?
It's hard to say. I do love both but I think I'd like to just see where life takes me. It's really exciting to be able to combine the two and sing and act on stage. There's nothing like live theatre. There's something very special about watching live performers. We'll see what happens.
Dear Evan Hansen tackles some pretty heavy subject matter. Do you ever feel yourself being weighed down by the topic? If so, what do you do to counteract that?
I was part of the Toronto production so when we first started that, if I'm honest, it sort of took me a while to navigate it. I was taking it home with me and I had to find a way out of it. I think what really helps me was going home and taking a hot shower or bath and watching comedy, like "The Office" or something funny. It's great to touch in with family and friends. We've got such a great group here on tour and there's always something funny happening backstage.
People often seem to assign more desirable qualities to those who have passed than they actually possessed in life. Do you feel that the show addresses that with Connor's death?
I don't want to give too much away but I think that Evan didn't really know Connor very well. I think what's interesting is that Zoe and the Murphy family hear things that they're unfamiliar with. That's why it takes Zoe a while to navigate her grief, because she's hearing things that she had never witnessed from Connor or could imagine in her wildest dreams.
Do you bring any personal experiences to the role of Zoe? How did you prepare yourself to step into her mind?
I think I do connect with Zoe in a lot of ways, just sort of a very similar high school experience, and I think there are certain areas of my life that are parallel to that. I definitely think that we're on the same level as a human being. We're very similar personality-wise.
What message do you hope that the audience takes from Dear Evan Hansen?
What's really special about this is I think everyone walks away feeling different things. I think at the end of the day, the highlight is that people are walking away thinking that they don't need to be afraid to speak up. I think it's opening up conversations about mental health and erasing that stigma and I'm proud to be a part of that.
After the tour ends in September, what are your plans? What would you like people to know?
I try not to look ahead that far. I don't have any set-in-stone plans so far, but I think it would be nice to hang out with family for a bit. I would love for everyone to come check out the show. We are thrilled to be in California. It's a great show for families to come see and we can't wait to hit Sacramento. Please check out my website at stephlarochelle.com.
Dear Evan Hansen plays at the Memorial Auditorium from January 15-26. Tickets start at $48 and are available at the Broadway Sacramento Box Office, 1419 H Street, Sacramento, or by calling (916) 557-1999; they are also available at the Memorial Auditorium Box Office, 1515 J Street, Sacramento, or by calling (916) 808-5181, or online at BroadwaySacramento.com.
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy