'Dear Evan Hansen' Star Michael Lee Brown Unveils Debut EP, Details How the Broadway Sensation 'Parallels' His Music

Lauren Listor
Michael Lee Brown

Michael Lee Brown has been handling quite the juggling act as of late. The 25-year-old Newtown, Penn., native has spent the last five months portraying perhaps the most famous Broadway character of the last few years, the title role in the Tony and Grammy-winning Dear Evan Hansen musical, in an alternate role. In addition to his occasional lead duties, he occasionally has to switch gears to play two other characters in the musical, classmates Jared Kleinman and classmate Connor Murphy.

"I’m not going to lie, it’s definitely hard to balance the two sometimes," Brown tells Billboard with a laugh. "What is nice is since I do go on for Evan every week, that’s become something that’s 'in' me now. It’s kind of like an escape into this other character, this other world, for two and a half hours -- so that’s been kind of a nice stress release in itself. It’s been stressful balancing it all, for sure, but it’s also very invigorating to keep doing it."

As if three different acting roles isn't enough to manage, Brown has concurrently been working on his debut EP, Way It Used To Be, which he would work on in his dressing room whenever he had a spare moment off stage. Teaming up with Pippin star Matthew James Thomas to put everything together -- at famed singer-songwriter and Broadway composer Duncan Sheik's house in upstate New York, no less -- last November, Brown has three songs he's excited to finally unveil, and hopefully spread positivity at the same time.

Similar to the uplifting messages of Dear Evan Hansen, one of Brown's main initiatives in his own music is positive vibes, along with honesty, simplicity and truth. And similar to the style of Dear Evan Hansen masterminds Pasek and Paul -- Brown's longtime inspirations -- he aims to make his songs melody-driven and strong in their sentiments. The sameness is no coincidence, though: Dear Evan Hansen is essentially a tailor-made musical for Brown.

"It very much parallels the kind of music that I write, and the kind of music I’d like to put out as a songwriter," he explains. "The topic of suicide, I think we all know people who are affected by it -- it was something that always kind of spoke to me. In college, I wrote a screenplay about a suicide incident even before I heard of Evan Hansen. It was something I was passionate about to help people with."

In addition to the poignantly relevant topic of suicide awareness, Brown has also found that the fan connection to Dear Evan Hansen has affirmed his desire to spread positivity with his own work. "Music-wise, Dear Evan Hansen opened my eyes up to what’s happening today, and really resonates with a lot of teenagers," he explains. "You hear how much the show’s impacted them, and I think through all that it really opened my eyes to how much this relevant topic really impacts people.

"Being a singer-songwriter, you’re always very much vulnerable and open to the world around you and what’s happening at the time, how your friends are feeling, how the people you meet are feeling," he continues. "And with the show, getting these letters from people and hearing all these opinions and feelings from people, [I'm] very much open to absorbing all of that."

The first set of songs finds Brown harping on what he's taken from interactions with fans, particularly reminding listeners of the simple joys in life. The title track of the three-song EP, "Way It Used to Be," touches on the hyper-connectivity that today's technology has inflicted on society, and staying grounded with the help of lessons learned in the past. One of the other two tracks, "Lettin It Play," focuses more on self-confidence and staying true to yourself, while the third song, "Life Can Be," brings both of those together in a message of appreciating the little things that make life special.

Although Brown is officially embarking on the singer-songwriter side of his career, he's not letting go of Dear Evan Hansen or Broadway by any means. He's always envisioned doing both, as the actor/singer would watch his older brother, Robby -- also a singer-songwriter, whom Brown credits for his songwriting skills -- perform while he was simultaneously pursuing acting and theater himself. For the time being, he'll be Dear Evan Hansen actor Michael Lee Brown and singer-songwriter Michael Lee Brown at the same time -- something he's been wanting to say since he was a little boy.

"The support from all involved with the show, including the fans, has been overwhelmingly wonderful," he gushes. "I'm so happy to finally share my music with the world, and I will continue to write and work on projects with honesty, simplicity and truth. This is only the beginning."

Take a listen to Way It Used to Be below, and check back to Brown's official Instagram page on more updates on his music.


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