Dear Evan Hansen is an emotional look at adolescence

By DIVA PAREKH | November 30, 2017

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THE TONY AWARDS/CC BY 3.0 Ben Platt and Rachel Bay Jones won Tonys for Dear Evan Hansen.

Ever since I first heard the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, I’ve wanted to go see this musical. Even the first few times I listened to it, when I had no idea what the storyline was, the music somehow made me cry.

A few months ago it was announced that original cast member Ben Platt, who plays Evan Hansen, would be leaving the show after November 19. It took a few weeks of agonizing over my bank balance, but eventually I bought a ticket for the November 18 show at the Music Box Theatre in New York City so I could see the show with him in it.

I’m not going to tell you how much it cost, because I know my parents are reading this, and if they find out they will fly all the way here from India and murder me. Needless to say, it was an excessive amount. Was it worth that? Every single penny.

When you enter the Music Box Theatre, you’re greeted by the sound of familiar phone beeps amplified over the stage speakers. The stage has a small bed and a desk on it — a standard teenager’s bedroom. Hanging from the walls, you see long narrow screens, filled with constantly changing social media newsfeeds with a soft blue light behind them.

The show starts with a phone ringing, ironically telling you to silence your phone, and you see Ben Platt in that little bedroom. Within the first few minutes of the show, you can tell that Evan Hansen has some form of social anxiety.

Platt talks at a million miles an hour, with the jittery, nervous demeanor of a teenager overthinking his every move. Toward the beginning, he’s constantly hunched over, talking to the floor instead of to people. But as the show progresses, you see him slowly grow.

Ben Platt won a Tony award for his performance in Dear Evan Hansen, and it’s absurdly easy to see why. He has several heartbreaking solos, like “Waving Through a Window” and “Words Fail,” both of which he sings through tears. You can hear him sniffling and you can see the very real tears roll down his face.

During most of the songs, particularly the slower solos towards the end, the entire audience falls silent. All you can hear from the audience is muffled sniffling, and the only movement you can see is the raised elbows of people wiping their tears away.

Dear Evan Hansen is undeniably moving, but what the show does an excellent job with is breaking up the intense emotionality with humor.

Will Roland and Mike Faist, who play Jared Kleinman and Connor Murphy, respectively, just go out there during “Sincerely, Me” and have fun. The dance is ridiculous, the sexual jokes are exactly what you’d expect from teenage boys, and you get to relax before Laura Dreyfuss (Zoe Murphy) takes your breath away with “Requiem.”

I’m not going to reveal anything about the story, not just because I don’t want to give you unwanted spoilers, but because Dear Evan Hansen goes beyond its own plot. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved the story. But what made me cry from start to finish was how I could feel every single emotion with the characters.

With depictions of mental health issues, it’s very easy to feel detached from the experience if it’s not something you or someone you know has been through. Evan Hansen very clearly has anxiety, and it is hinted that he tries to commit suicide before the timeline of the show. With a lot of media that portrays similar issues, audiences feel sympathy but not necessarily empathy.

What Dear Evan Hansen does like nothing I’ve ever seen before is humanize those experiences. Anyone can relate to being “on the outside always looking in,” one of the lyrics of “Waving Through a Window.” Every teenager worries about how their life is going to turn out. The sentiment in “Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?” is something I feel all the time.

In “Only Us,” Laura Dreyfuss sings, “I don’t need more reminders of all that’s been broken,” which is eventually followed by “We can’t compete with all that.” It’s the feeling of being smaller than everything happening in your life, the feeling that nothing’s in your control and if you find something that is, you cling onto it. 

Rachel Bay Jones, who plays Evan’s mother Heidi Hansen, was amazing as a mother desperately trying to connect with her son. In her solos “Good for You” and “So Big / So Small,” I felt my mother’s pain in a way I never have before.

I’ve never been happier than I am now at college, and when I tell my mom about it, she seems happy. But I always get the sense that it hurts her somehow that she couldn’t give me that happiness when I was still home.

Jones portrays Heidi’s anger and pain in “So you found a place where the grass is greener” by simultaneously yelling and crying while singing. When she sang “Your mom isn’t going anywhere / Your mom is staying right here / No matter what,” I didn’t even try to hide the fact that I was sobbing.

Dear Evan Hansen was an incredibly cathartic experience. I came out a jumbled mess of emotion, feeling this strange kind of connection not just with the cast but also with every single person who was in the audience with me. Evan Hansen is just one lonely kid, but a kid who has the heart-wrenching capacity to make anyone start to hope.

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