Not too long ago, I was invited to the opening night of a new musical, “Dear Evan Hansen.” Knowing absolutely nothing about it, I said Sure! I’d love to attend! The date coincided with a significant wedding anniversary and I thought it was as good an excuse as any for an evening out.
I read the storyline of the play and thought it sounded like a combination of teen angst, intrigue, and social media all wrapped up in a musical theme. On paper, it sounded like a potential disaster, not that I was expecting that. I guess I didn’t know what to expect.
When I think musical theater, I think of things like Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, or even the godawful Cats (yes, I really hated it). My experience with musical theater was limited to movie adaptations of musicals on TV or high school productions of shows like Annie, Damn Yankees!, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, usually sung wildly off-key.
I will admit that, until last year, I had never seen a Broadway show but have been to two shows in London. My friend Dave and I saw a little known Andrew Lloyd Webber show called Whistle Down the Wind. And there was definitely a reason it was little known.
A few years later, my husband went with me to London and while I was working, I asked him to find a show and grab some tickets for us for the evening. We ended up in nosebleed seats for a production of Les Miserables. Yes, that’s what musicals are. Big, showy, dramatic, sing-songy. And it’s also why I’m not really a fan.
Until I saw Dear Evan Hansen.
I will fully admit that I had no idea who Ben Platt was before the show (he’s apparently one of the stars of Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2). Nor did I know anyone else in the cast. But here’s the bottom line: I was blown away.
Evan (Ben Platt) is the star of the show, a misfit teen who struggles with anxiety. His life involves keeping afloat with his single mom, therapy appointments, and anxiety medications. As the show begins, he’s ready to start a new year of school by writing himself letters to motivate him, as the urging of his therapist.
Dear Evan Hansen,
It’s going to be a great year…
And so on. Only his letter falls into the wrong hands and is misconstrued as a letter written to him and not by him.
When I first heard that this show focused on communication in the era of social media, I was worried that it would be laden with dialogue about Instagram and Facebook, ensuring that it would become a dated show sooner rather than later. I was pleasantly surprised that the show kept a very modern feel, one that resonated with me, without making it feel trendy.
I won’t give away the plot lines but general themes include suicide, social anxiety, dysfunctional families, friendship, parenting, young love, and extremely hard life lessons. It was a beautifully told story that was also beautifully sung.
There was balance between the dialogue and the songs that felt right. And with the small stage setting and the use of microphones, the singing felt very personal and intimate and only added to the story.
Oh, and it made me cry. I have to tell you – it takes a lot to make me cry these days. I teared up a lot but the scene at the end where Evan’s mom sings to him… let’s just say as a mom of a son named Evan, it struck an emotional chord with me.
I originally saw this play in 2015 when it premiered at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. I hadn’t know that smaller theaters are often proving grounds for future Broadway hits. I’m proud to say I saw the diamond in this rough before it headed to Broadway.
If you are heading to Broadway and you’re lucky enough to score some tickets, I highly recommend this show. Opening night at Arena Stage included such a diverse crowd in terms of race, gender, age, sexual orientation (and certainly fashion), but I could tell this show resonated with every theater-goer that night from young to old.
And if you’re thinking about taking your kids to the theater, this is a great show to open up a dialogue with your young teens and to get the family talking. After seeing the show, I was compelled to tell you how much this show moved me. I think I just might like musical theater now.