The week before the Tony Awards, Jennifer Laura Thompson’s husband was in Tokyo on business.
“I was a single Mom doing eight shows plus press interviews, Tony Awards rehearsals, meetings, luncheons, galas, fittings, recordings and parenting,” said Thompson. The Broadway star originated the role of, and currently stars as, Connor Murphy’s mother, Cynthia, in the Tony Award-winning Best Musical, “Dear Evan Hansen.”
She enlisted extra help from sitters and her in-laws for Thompson’s and her husband, John Kain’s, 13-year-old son, Tommy. “My brain was in overdrive and I had to remain hyper-focused,” recalled Thompson, who was born in Southfield and moved to Bloomfield Hills when she was eight. “That also meant that if I wasn't on camera, I was showing up in pajamas.”
This wasn’t the first time the Tony-nominated actress and 1991 University of Michigan (UM) Musical Theatre graduate had to successfully juggle parenting and work.
In 2004, Thompson took on the coveted role of Glinda in “Wicked” after Kristin Chenoweth left the show. Tommy was only six-months-old at the time.
“That was the hardest work I ever had to do. I took the job because I knew the role was incredible, but as a nursing mom with sleepless nights and a severely restricted diet, it left me little energy to do my show. I don't regret it though because it is one of the roles that defines my career,” said Thompson.
It was Susan “Lady” LaBatt, Jenny Thompson’s drama teacher at Birmingham Groves High School, who Thompson credits for recognizing her musical theater spark. So much so that LaBatt cast her as the lead in “Guys and Dolls” sophomore year, a role that would normally go to a senior.
And the accolades continued to mount.
“Jen’s a very versatile actor and wonderful singer. She has the fantastic ability to be very open-hearted and intensely emotional but also understands comedy,” said Dear Evan Hansen Tony-Award winning composer Benj Pasek who, along with his writing partner, Justin Paul, are fellow UM alums. “We thought of her immediately for the role of Cynthia, and we’re really, really lucky she’s been with the show ever since.”
Pasek, Paul, Thompson and the entire Dear Evan Hansen creative team celebrated their six Tony Awards at the DEH after-party which started at midnight. By that time, Thompson had changed out of her Matthew Christopher custom-designed gown to a short, fun dress. She left the party “early” at 3:30 a.m.
“If I were still in my ‘20s and I didn’t have a child at home, I would have gone to the after-after party ‘til the sun came up,” laughed the disciplined actress, who exists on protein shakes and gluten-free meals.
With sold-out shows well into January 2018, Thompson says she won’t be coming home any time soon. “I miss the Franklin Cider Mill and wandering around Birmingham,” said Thompson, whose entire immediate family still lives in the area. “We spent many, many weekends shopping there and hanging out at ‘the Wall.’”
The Wall, she described, is only four-feet high and enclosed the tiny parking lot, just north of Shain Park and directly behind the former Harmony House, now Roots.
“Music was our thing – punk rock, alternative music and new wave,” she reminisced. “And it wasn’t just us ‘Grove-ites,’ hanging out there, it was just kids who had a common interest in music.”
Photo: Matthew Murphy