"Dear Evan Hansen" Brings Refreshing Relatability to Broadway
Issue   |   Wed, 02/07/2018 - 00:47

Broadway shows are meant to dazzle and transport their viewers to another place, time or even world. However, it’s rare that they evoke emotions beyond amazement. The best works of art, whether of painting, music or theater, either make the consumer of the work feel unexpected emotions or achieve a non-superficial level of relatability. The musical “Dear Evan Hansen” does both; the audience not only feels Evan’s pain and tears up along with him, but also laughs with him when his friend makes a dirty joke.

“Dear Evan Hansen” eschews the concept of a Broadway show as an escapist work of art thanks to its focus on real-world issues. However, it also avoids getting bogged down in the potentially depressing tropes of suicide and social anxiety. Its deviation from the norms of Broadway shows — both its original story and musical score — makes it a refreshing experience. The most important aspect of the show is that its viewers emotionally invest in the characters. There were few dry eyes in the theater at the end of the first act, which was capped off by the crescendo of the musical number “You Will Be Found,” performed by the whole company. The powerful message “Even when the dark comes crashing through / when you need someone to carry you … you will be found,” resonates with those that feel alone, regardless of age, race or gender. In that moment, “Dear Evan Hansen” connects the audience and the actors, thus becoming a show for everyone.

The show opens with the main character, Evan Hansen (Ben Platt), sitting alone on his bed, attempting to write a letter to himself that will convince him that his day will be a positive one. His mother jovially enters and reminds him to take his medicine and write the letter — she works most nights, so Evan is left alone most of the time.

When Evan goes to school, he acts so shyly that he can barely formulate the words to talk to his crush, Zoe Murphy. Even if you weren’t a nerd or a social outcast in high school, Evan’s charming shyness and stuttering are relatable because everyone in high school feels insecure at some point whether they look it or not. Zoe’s brother, Connor, comes by and mockingly signs Evan’s cast. He later finds Evan’s note to himself and confiscates it.

Soon thereafter, Evan is called to the principal’s office. To his surprise, Connor’s parents are waiting for him. The news: Connor took his own life and Connor’s parents have found Evan’s note. Because the note began “Dear Evan Hansen,” the Murphys assume that Connor had authored it. To save them from suffering more in that moment, Evan confirms the Murphys’ story.

Evan attains popularity almost overnight after the school finds out that he was supposedly Connor’s friend. He enlists his family friend Jared to back-date emails so that there exists more correspondence between him and Connor to prove the validity of their friendship. At first, Evan is torn. He knows it’s wrong for him to lie, but he could also both provide the Murphys some comfort and gain acceptance from others.

After a series of twists and turns, including bonding with Connor’s father and dating Zoe, Evan is finally forced to admit that he fabricated his friendship with Connor. He becomes a social outcast but leaves the situation wiser, as proven by the maturity that he exhibits in the show’s final scene, a chat with Zoe that takes place in a memorial garden for Connor.

It would be remiss to conclude a discussion of “Dear Evan Hansen” without addressing its musical score. The show is elevated as much by its music as by its original script. It not only exudes the typical energy of a Broadway show, but also displays a depth of lyricism and genuineness that is seldom replicated in other shows. The show’s most popular song, “Waving Through a Window,” takes the audience through the range of emotions that Evan feels; everything from despair “On the outside always looking in / will I ever be more than I’ve always been?” to hope, “’Cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass / waving through a window.”

With six Tony award wins, critics resoundingly agree that “Dear Evan Hansen” is a must-see. Due to its fantastic music, moving script and emotional performances from its actors, along with an inherent relatability absent from other Broadway shows, “Dear Evan Hansen” should be at the top of anyone’s list of musicals to see on Broadway.