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Former PVA acting student makes Broadway debut

By Ryan Lambert
On January 17, 2012

In "Sister Carrie," Theodore Dreiser's classic, gritty novel of a young woman's rise to stardom, the reader encounters the tribulations of making a name on Broadway and the tough transition from ensemble work to a leading role.

Much like Carrie, Dreiser's immortal protagonist, UNC alumnus Derek Hanson, who graduated with a degree in musical theater in 2006, is navigating the complex workings of New York's acting scene.

Starting on Jan. 10, Hanson has been on Broadway as an ensemble member for  "Anything Goes," the well-known musical about romance on the SS American. He is also the understudy for both Billy Crocker (played by Colin Donnell) and Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (played by Robert Petkoff).

David Grapes, the director of the University of Northern Colorado's School of Theatre Arts and Dance, worked with Hanson when Hanson partook in the New York Showcase, an event where UNC students show their talent to renowned casting agents.

Grapes has followed Hanson's career with interest.

"Frequently, students will get calls and fly back and forth to New York. That's what happened to Derek," said Grapes, who recollected his experiences with Hanson.

At UNC, Hanson starred in "Go-Go Beach Woody," "Jekyll and Hyde," and "42nd Street Thug."

The over-6-foot-tall falsetto singer attributes much of his success to UNC's theater program, which is small and encourages students to read notable plays.

"UNC was exactly the program I needed," Hanson said. "They focus on all aspects of musical theater: singing, acting and dancing — the triple threat…UNC also makes its students read the masterpieces like Shaw."

Rehearsal for "Anything Goes" began on Dec. 26.

Hanson turned down the chance to work with Daniel Radcliff in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" to work on "Anything Goes," and he has been enjoying the experience, especially working with big-name actors like Joel Grey, one of only eight actors who has won both a Tony Award and an Academy Award for playing the same part.

"To be standing up on stage with them is a trip," Hanson said. "I admire them. It's like seeing life come full circle."

Hanson, who on average goes on 100-150 job interviews a year, cautions that the life of an actor is not a "normal" career.

"There's a lot of times when you don't know when your next check is coming in," said Hanson. "It's becoming increasingly difficult, but you get what you put into it. Nine times out of 10, (casting agents) say, ‘Thank you, but we're going a different way.' You have to have thick enough skin when you don't get it." 

Before his role on Broadway, Hanson appeared in the national tour of "Shrek: The Musical" as Papa Ogre and Straw Pig #1.

He also did regional work, performing in shows like the Arvada Center's "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

The blued-eyed actor understands that auditioning is like marketing: The actor is attempting to sell his or her type.

"We don't like to think about it, but we're selling a product," said Hanson, who argues his type is "the chorus guy who can understudy the lead." "The people who struggle the most are the ones who fight their type."

A member of the Actor's Equity Union, Hanson lives in New York City with his wife, whom he married in October 2011.

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