Dear Evan Hansen’s story is beautifully inspiring
Dear Evan Hansen, an original Broadway musical created by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (lyricists of La La Land) and accompanied with a book by Steven Levenson, has taken the musical theater world by storm when it debuted on Broadway last December after six years in the making. Winning six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, it has quickly cemented both its style and message for many years to come.
The musical follows Evan Hansen, a high school senior suffering from social anxiety. He falls into a web of lies after accidentally claiming that he was the best friend of Connor, a fellow classmate who recently passed away. As a result, he inadvertently becomes a symbol of kindness and hope for the community. However, as he gains popularity, he struggles to maintain the burden of lying to his friends and family.
The heart-wrenching musical is anchored by actor Ben Platt’s Tony-winning performance as the title character. Despite singing in 13 out of 14 of the musical’s songs, he is able to maintain his vocals while delivering an emotionally-draining performance. Platt portrays his character’s social anxiety in a subtle, yet powerful manner. In the first solo of the musical, “Waving Through A Window,” Platt stresses the nuances that are a result of his disorder through his poor posture, quick blinking and fidgeting body language. Being both the protagonist and antagonist of the show, Platt convinces audiences to remain on Evan’s side every step of the way, garnering sympathy and acceptance of Evan despite his seemingly disastrous mistake. The immense character development seen in Evan reaches its peak with his last heartfelt solo, “Words Fail,” in which Platt reaches a painful level of vulnerability, sobbing and shaking as he sings about his mistakes and crippling anxiety.
Accompanying Platt’s strong performance are equally strong supporting characters. Despite great performances from those playing Evan’s classmates, the stand-out characters are the moms of the musical. Actresses Jennifer Laura Thompson and Rachel Bay Jones are immensely touching in their roles as a mother learning to support Evan and a single mother working countless shifts while taking night classes to work toward a better future for her son, respectively. The emotional pinnacle of the musical is beautifully performed by Jones as she sings the bittersweet ballad “So Big / So Small” to Evan.
Orchestrated with a nine-man band, the score strays away from traditional Broadway by showcasing how simplicity within songs can be utilized without compromising plot. While the majority of the songs are backed with guitar and piano, they vary in melody and genre, allowing each song to provide new perspectives on the characters and story. Never skipping a beat, Pasek and Paul strike an intimate chord with the audience through their strikingly honest and heartfelt music.
Likewise, the book is extremely well-written, capturing the essence of teenagers in a quirky, yet authentic form. With most of the show being dialogue, the book incorporates hints of comedic relief while continuing to explore the fragility and inevitable flaw of human nature. Levenson consciously strays away from cliche character tropes and finds a way to build genuine, three-dimensional characters that each serve a purpose in the story. Despite the plot’s many eccentricities, the musical manages to stay consistent with its message throughout its entirety.
Although the musical lacks in choreography and complex sets, its unique modern set design causes it to stand out among other musicals. In addition to its impactful lighting cues, the set is built with automated glass panels spanning horizontally and vertically across the stage in constant motion, projecting the never-ending buzz of social media.
Dear Evan Hansen is distinctly contemporary in its ability to encapsulate the mentality of teens today. Reflecting rising issues in our society, from mental health to suicide to the impact of social media, Dear Evan Hansen puts forth an empowering theme of hope and acceptance.
Written by Sarah Aie, Sports editor
Photo courtesy of dearevanhansen.com