Overcoming anxiety through an uplifting musical
Broadway shows are generally filled with stellar acting, live music and captivating storylines. “Dear Evan Hansen” met and exceeded my expectations. Before seeing the play, I had heard nothing but great things, so being able to finally see it for myself was an exciting experience.
The musical follows high school student Evan Hansen (Taylor Trensch), who suffers from extreme social anxiety. He does not speak often, but when he does, he tends to have awkward interactions. His family life is rough; his parents got a divorce when he was younger, his father left and his mom is struggling to provide. For a therapy assignment, Evan is asked to write a letter to himself that starts with “Dear Evan Hansen, Today is going to be an amazing day and here’s why ...” He first writes this uplifting note to himself, but after a bad day writes a letter that starts with “Dear Evan Hansen, Turns out today wasn’t an amazing day after all.” This negative letter then gets taken by Connor Murphy (Mike Faist), an outcast who bullies Evan.
The next day, Evan is informed that Connor committed suicide and that his letter was found in Connor’s pocket. Connor’s parents assume that the letter was a suicide note addressed to Evan because the two were good friends. Put in an awkward situation, Evan doesn’t tell Connor’s parents the truth that the two actually weren’t friends. Connor’s parents seem to be comforted by the thought of their son having a friend, and Evan simply wants them to feel better. This first lie leads to claims throughout the rest of the show that Evan was Connor’s best friend and that the two emailed frequently. He and his friend Jared (Will Roland) create fake emails to provide proof of this.
Evan, Alana (Phoenix Best) and Jared start The Connor Project to raise awareness about suicide and provide resources for people who feel alone. After countless visits to the Murphy’s, he and Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss) – who Evan had a crush on for years – get together. Evan becomes increasingly guilty with each lie he tells and finally confides that he was the one who wrote Connor’s supposed suicide letter and that the emails were fake. Connor’s family is at a loss for words upon hearing this news. The play ends in the apple orchard, the place discussed in many of the emails exchanged between the two “friends.”
The actors were fantastic and one could truly feel the emotion with every word spoken. Some of my favorite numbers from the musical were “If I Could Tell Her” and “Sincerely, Me.” The only negative thing I have to say about the show is that while I thought that Trensch did a fantastic job at portraying Evan as a character, his singing skills seemed to be a little weaker than expected. For some of the songs, it sounded like he was screaming or had been unable to hear himself.
I appreciated the minimalist set that was employed. I feel like it enhanced the experience because the audience was more focused on the acting and the storyline rather than the background. The addition of projections was extremely unique to the show, as a lot of it focused on the contents of Evan’s computer. Although the incorporation of screens was interesting, it was a bit inconvenient that the projections did not completely align because it made it difficult to read some of the content. The orchestra was located above the stage, in view, instead of in a pit underneath the stage like other shows.
I absolutely loved the musical and would see it again if possible. One can recognize that everyone involved in the production takes their job seriously in order to put on the best possible show. I had high expectations going into the play, and most of them were met, excluding the singing abilities of Trensch. The show deals with serious issues but was able to infuse some comedy to lighten the mood. I thought the musical was an appropriate length; any longer and the audience would become uninterested. This play is perfect for theater enthusiasts who enjoy more serious works as opposed to ones that are comedy-based.