In the Mean Girls musical’s Act 1 finale “Fearless,” Gretchen Wieners stands up in a sudden display of self-determination, asserting with a cascading arpeggio that she and her peers were “free-e-e-e-e-e, free.” With Grand Horizons, Ashley Park’s first Broadway show since originating the role of Gretchen, comes a different kind of freedom—one with less melisma.
“Musical theatre is where my blood and my bones are,” the Tony nominee promises. “But I feel a freedom in the play process, because you don’t have to time everything with certain elements like choreography or music cues. There’s an ownership over it, and I can only say that because my experience has been with the people it’s been with.”
Among those on hand for Park’s first professional foray into straight drama: playwright Bess Wohl and director Leigh Silverman. Between a world premiere engagement at Williamstown Theatre Festival and rehearsals for the Broadway bow, the two have granted Park the opportunity to craft the role of Jess, a pregnant therapist thrown into her in-laws’ sudden divorce.
“This is my first Broadway role that is truly original,” Park notes, following featured roles in Mean Girls and two revivals: Sunday in the Park With George and The King and I. “Nobody coming into this knows who Jess is, and that’s super fun. My mind’s stimulated in a different way.”
Playing an eight-months pregnant woman helps. “Not that we’re blaming the hormones, but I don’t have to justify anything to anybody. I don’t have to do anything the right way or the same way because it’s going to feel different every day. Because she’s different every day.”
After Grand Horizons with Second Stage, the actor returns to her musical roots in the title role of Thoroughly Modern Millie at New York City Center. The Encores! presentation will arrive on the heels of her newfound rehearsal room flexibility. “The hardest thing is when people become too precious with the story or too precious with themselves,” she says. “I’m excited to go into a musical and not feel like I have to be controlled so much.”
It’s a bold—and yes, “fearless”—outlook, but far from brash. “I don’t want to do anything that I’m not completely humbled by,” Park says as she reflects on working with her “legends” of co-stars (including James Cromwell, Jane Alexander, and Priscilla Lopez). “All I can bring is my experience and the core of who I am—and the openness to learn.”