Broadway’s revolutionary new musical ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ dazzles audiences
November 9, 2017
The latest smash hit to reach the Broadway stage has captured the hearts of thousands of people through the haunting story of Dear Evan Hansen.
This Tony-winning Best Musical is loaded with star power, from actors and actresses to those behind the scenes. Ben Platt is stunning in his role as the title character, an awkward high school senior suffering from social anxiety. His struggles and experiences create the story. Other awarded actors include Rachel Bay Jones (Evan’s mother), Laura Dreyfuss (Evan’s crush), and Will Roland (Evan’s friend).
Pasek & Paul, the composers and lyricists, have created the most beautiful and at the same time the saddest score on Broadway today. It truly captures Evan Hansen’s heart and mind as well as the mood and emotions shown by all of the characters throughout the musical. Alex Lacamoire, one of the masterminds behind Hamilton, helped bring the score to life with his orchestrations.
And the hype was well-deserved. Dear Evan Hansen has followed in the wake of the aforementioned Hamilton in the wave of new musicals that are transforming and modernizing Broadway.
A poignant, touching story accompanied by a beautiful score are part of what make this musical the contemporary trailblazer that it has become.
Opening Monologue; “Anybody Have a Map?”
Interestingly, Dear Evan Hansen breaks the mold from the very beginning. Rather than beginning with a showstopping opening number, the musical opens with Evan Hansen, the socially awkward main character, writing a letter to himself. It is revealed over the course of the story that his therapist has instructed him to write these letters, whose beginnings are the origin of the title of the show. In addition, Evan ends each letter with the phrase, “Sincerely, Me.”
The monologue reveals Evan’s struggle to try to find himself in a world that tells him he should be smart, confident, interesting, outgoing, and important. It also reveals Evan’s anxiety and his crush on Zoe Murphy, one of his classmates.
Immediately following the monologue is the first song of the show, “Anybody Have a Map?” This is once again not a traditional opener. Rather than being a huge full-cast number, it introduces the show by immensely developing seven of the eight characters in just three minutes.
Led by the two mothers, Heidi Hansen (single mother of Evan) and Cynthia Murphy (mother of Zoe, Evan’s crush, and Connor), the song introduces their struggles to raise a family, Zoe’s and Connor’s flawed relationship, and Connor’s drug addiction, and it expands upon Evan’s social anxiety. It also uses guitar as the main instrument, a theme that will be carried throughout the show.
“Another stellar conversation for the scrapbook,
Another stumble as I’m reaching for the right thing to say
I’m kinda coming up empty,
Can’t find my way to you
Does anybody have a map?”
~Heidi, “Anybody Have a Map?”
“Waving Through a Window”; “For Forever”
The next two songs are two very different emotional solos sung by Evan Hansen. The first occupies the traditional archetype of a character’s “anthem.” “Waving Through a Window,” however, is much more than traditional. If any song from DEH (Dear Evan Hansen) shows modernization of musical theater, this is it.
Lacamoire’s orchestrations bring to this song strings and percussion, and Ben Platt’s voice on the melody and riffs (see: “wait around for an answer to appear”) help bring the message of this song to the audience in captivating fashion. I love the percussion rhythm throughout the song. In the second pre chorus, however, percussion lets up for a moment in between the lines to allow a brilliant string melody, bringing in the second chorus.
The melody doesn’t change from the first chorus, but Platt hits the high notes in his chest voice, rather than his head voice (which he used in the first chorus). This simple change by Pasek and Paul only adds to the increasing power and impact.
This leads into a dramatic decrescendo into the bridge, in which Platt repeats the line “When you’re falling in a forest, and there’s nobody around, do you ever really crash or even make a sound?” Not only does this metaphor fit beautifully with the rest of the song, it also hits home on a personal level because in the story, Evan had broken his arm due to a fall from a tree.
The bridge crescendos gradually back into the final chorus with a key change between the bridge and the chorus. Platt also hits these notes full voice, as well as several belted “Whoa”s at the end, which conveys his emotion beautifully.
Evan’s world is changed when Connor commits suicide. The lie of the story begins when Evan makes up a story about how he and Connor were friends. He tells this to Connor’s family because he wants to make them feel better about their son, who they seem to have viewed as a scoundrel who wasted everything they gave him.
Even though it’s a lie, this song displays Evan’s general heartache that has become a part of his life. Evan can be heard laughing, sighing, and choking up as he tells his story.
“I try to speak, but nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
I’m waving through a window
Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?”
~Evan, “Waving Through a Window”
This is the one song that adds a bit of humor to an incredibly depressing and heartbreaking musical, in which Evan and his pseudo-friend try to create a fake email correspondence between Evan and Connor to back up his story. It’s almost jitterbug style is different from the rest of the music, bringing some upbeat tempo to the show.
“’Cause all that it takes is a little reinvention
It’s easy to change if you give it your attention
All you gotta do is just believe you can be who you want to be
~Evan, Connor, Jared, “Sincerely, Me”
I am convinced that there is no better way to show the Murphys’ reaction to Evan and Connor’s friendship than what Pasek and Paul and Lacamoire have accomplished with “Requiem”.
The song begins with soft, slow guitar strumming, which sets an ambiguous mood. This is brilliant because of the range of emotions that vary from person to person throughout the music.
Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss) opens the song with an emotional solo, asking why she should grieve and mourn at the loss of her brother. She has suffered years under his mistreatment of her (later in the song, she calls him a monster), and she wonders why everyone says he was “such a great son and wonderful friend”. Zoe also sings the first chorus, in which she points out that she “will sing no requiem tonight” because she doesn’t feel sorry.
In a short interlude between the chorus and the second verse, an ascending piano melody is played, along with a cymbal crescendo in the background. It helps transition from the chorus to the next verse, which begins with Larry Murphy (Michael Park), who is angry at Connor for wasting what he had given him. He “will sing no requiem tonight” because of this anger.
Cynthia Murphy (Jennifer Laura Thompson), contrary to her husband and daughter, is encouraged by the emails. She will sing no requiem because she hears his voice and knows that he is still with her. The complexity of this writing and the triple-meaning associated with it are truly incredible.
“Why should I play the grieving girl and lie
Saying that I miss you
And that my world has gone dark without your light?
I will sing no requiem tonight.”
“I hear your voice, I feel you near
Within these words, I finally find you
And now that I know that you are still here
I will sing no requiem tonight.”
“If I Could Tell Her”
This is a softer song, but it is well-loved by both actors and audiences (both Ben Platt and Laura Dreyfuss mentioned this as one of their favorite songs). Evan is getting increasingly caught up in his lies, and in this song, he tells Zoe all of the reasons Connor supposedly loved her. He claims that Connor used to tell Evan these things, but could not talk to Zoe because he felt they were “a million worlds apart”.
Zoe, taken aback by everything, exclaims, “It’s like I don’t know anything.”
However, Evan is lying once again. Forced to think of something on the spot, he simply blurts out all the reasons he loves her, passing them off as things Connor says. It’s really powerful when he sings “If I could tell her how she’s everything to me” as though Connor were saying it, when unbeknownst to Zoe, he is expressing everything he feels towards her.
“If I could tell her, tell her everything I see
If I could tell her
How she’s everything to me
But we’re a million worlds apart
And I don’t know how I would even start…”
~Evan, “If I Could Tell Her”
“Disappear”; “You Will Be Found”
Spurred on by his conscience, which claims that “No one deserves to be forgotten,” Evan decides to start The Connor Project, a fundraising drive to raise awareness for suicide and to honor Connor’s memory. He proposes this idea to his pseudo-friends Jared (Will Roland) and Alana (Kristolyn Lloyd), who agree to help and support him. Larry Murphy is surprised by the outpouring of love for Connor, and Cynthia Murphy thinks that what Evan is doing is “wonderful.” The friends decide to open the project with an “all-school memorial assembly.”
At said assembly, Evan, who is supposed to be giving the opening address, fumbles with and drops all of the notes he had prepared beforehand. He is left with everyone staring at him and nothing to say. Regardless, he gives a beautiful speech to the entire audience. Unbeknownst to him, someone in the audience records a video of this speech and posts it online.
The video immediately goes viral, and Alana, Jared, and Cynthia are shocked by the recognition Evan is getting. The Connor Project page gained followers by the thousands. The online presence and the importance of social media in the story are two of the things that help bring musical theatre into the modern era.
“You Will Be Found” closes Act 1, and it is a slightly more traditional, full cast, closing number. The full sound that the eight actors create in this song is impressive. However, rather than ending on a huge, powerful chord, the song ends with only Evan, who simply sings the line, “you will be found,” after which Evan and Zoe kiss.
It’s a powerful ending, but I’m not sure I would have made that choice if I were the director/composer. I think it could be even more powerful and beautiful to end with all eight people singing.
“No one deserves to be forgotten
No one deserves to fade away
No one should come and go
And have no one know he was ever even here
No one deserves to disappear.”
“Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
When you’re broken on the ground, you will be found
So let the sun come streaming in
‘Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again
If you only look around
You will be found.”
~Company, “You Will Be Found”
“To Break in a Glove”
This is not my favorite song ever, but I think it works well to show the budding father-son bond between Larry and Evan. Larry has just lost his son, and he never had a great relationship with him anyway, so Evan gives Larry something he desperately needs. Larry does the same for Evan, whose father walked out when Evan was very young.
“And whether you’re prepping for some test
Or you’re miles from some goal
Or you’re just trying to do what’s best
For a kid who’s lost control
You do the hard thing
‘Cause that’s the right thing.”
~Larry, “To Break in a Glove”
As a sort of sequel to “If I Could Tell Her,” Zoe encourages Evan not to let other things or people, namely Connor, influence their relationship. It’s a beautiful song, and I love how it begins with piano but introduces guitar much later in the song.
“What if it’s you, and what if it’s me
And what if that’s all that we need it to be
And the rest of the world falls away
What do you say?”
~Zoe, “Only Us”
“Good For You”
At this point, everything is falling apart, and Evan starts to feel the consequences of such an impactful lie. Heidi Hansen (Rachel Bay Jones), Evan’s mom, finds out about Evan’s relationships with the Murphys, and she is horrified when the Murphys offer to give the money saved for Connor’s college to Evan for his college. Heidi and Evan fight, as Heidi feels she has never been enough for Evan.
Alana notices inconsistencies in the fake emails, and she becomes suspicious. Evan asks Jared to help him fix these, but Jared, jealous of Evan’s perfect new life thanks to Connor’s death, threatens to expose him. The three converge on him in this song, expressing their rage that he has neglected them.
The structure of this song is very similar to “Requiem.” Heidi sings the first verse and chorus, Alana and Jared split the second verse, and all three sing the rest of the song.
The song opens with guitar chords that can only be described as “forceful.” It sets the tone for the rest of the song. Heidi’s pure anger and emotion come through beautifully even while being pitch perfect in her solo, and they are well accompanied by the guitar in the background. The acting job in the mocking sarcasm when Heidi yells “Good for you, you, you” in the chorus is part of the reason she won a Tony for this role.
When Jared sings his part in the second verse, he sings the line “You play who you need to play.” When I first listened to this song, I interpreted it as referring to Evan’s supposed exploitation of him. As I listened more, I realized the double meaning: it could also be referring to Evan’s playing of different roles and people, as in a play. This is the most brilliant double meaning I’ve ever heard.
Later in the song, during the bridge, in which all three sing in harmony, Evan joins in with his own solo. It is clear just through listening to the song that he feels everything closing in on him as his world falls apart. An especially powerful moment comes when Evan sings “I gotta find a way to stop it, stop it, just let me off”. The orchestrations pulse on “stop it, stop it” before a crescendo into the final chorus, and Evan holds the word “off” well into this chorus. The other three sing the melody behind him, which is identical lyrically to the previous choruses except for one line.
The line “so you did what you had to do” is changed to “now you say that you’re someone new,” and it lends itself to the most noticeable harmony in the final chorus on the word new. The three rise into a desperate, shrieking, three-part chord at the climax.
The song closes with an unaccompanied reprise of the first line of the chorus, “So you got what you always wanted,” and the final note is held out just a bit longer than usual before the final beat. The extra time on the final note allows the raw emotion, at which Rachel Bay Jones excels, to come through.
“So you got what you always wanted
So you got your dream come true
Good for you, good for you, you, you
Got a taste of a life so perfect
Now you say that you’re someone new
Good for you…”
~Heidi, Alana, Jared, “Good For You”
“Words Fail”; “So Big / So Small”
“Words Fail” opens with Evan confessing his lie to the Murphys, and when listening to the song, it can seem as though this is true for the entire song. However, an interesting directing decision was to have the Murphys leave, one by one, at different times, leaving Evan alone on stage. I would have to disagree with this decision. I think the whole song should be sung to the Murphys. I understand how it could be interpreted as Evan realizing all of the things he says and speaking to himself, but I think the same effect could be accomplished by dimming the lights on the entire stage and simply spotlighting Evan as he sings.
“Words Fail” is also an interesting song. It’s beautiful and heart-wrenching, but it’s not very cohesive as a whole. That said, the individual parts by themselves are written beautifully, and possibly my favorite single moment in the show is when Evan belts a reprise of the first verse of “Waving Through a Window”.
The string accompaniment behind it is perfectly suited to support Platt’s emotion and sadness, especially when he changes the note on “make” in “before I make the mistake”, going up in pitch instead of down. This repetition leads into the climax of the song, in which Evan sings “I never let them see the worst of me” and holds out “worst”, letting the accompaniment go quiet for a moment, leaving just Evan’s voice.
“So Big / So Small” is the song where you cry your eyes out while you’re watching Rachel Bay Jones do what she does best. Beginning and ending with only guitar and bringing in piano and strings only at the bridge, this creates the perfect environment for Heidi to tell Evan the story of when his father left.
She explains that her husband brought a U-Haul truck to the driveway to move out. Evan, who would have been very young at the time, “saw that truck and . . . smiled so wide”. Heidi and Evan’s father let Evan sit behind the wheel. After the first chorus, Heidi tells Evan about when she tucked him in that night and he “sat up and said, ‘Is there another truck coming to our driveway, a truck that will take Mommy away?” Not only in musical theatre but in all the music to which I have ever listened, I have never heard anything as sad as this.
I never cry when I’m listening to music, but the first time I ever heard that line, I’m pretty sure I shed a tear. It took me by surprise. That’s not to say that the rest of the song isn’t tear-jerking either. When Rachel Bay Jones rises into the bridge, she belts with such passion that it’s impossible not to take notice of her talent.
“That night, I tucked you into bed
I will never forget how you sat up and said
‘Is there another truck coming to our driveway,
A truck that will take mommy away?’
And the house felt so big, and I felt so small…”
~Heidi, “So Big / So Small”
One year later, Zoe takes Evan to the apple orchard that opened as a result of the Connor Project. She doesn’t offer forgiveness. She doesn’t even touch him; in fact, they stay a few feet apart throughout the final scene. She simply wants to show Evan what he has done for the community.
I have to give credit to Steven Levenson (book) and Michael Greif (director) for this; while a more traditional story may have ended with a more satisfying ending, what happens in the show is more accurate to what might have happened in real life. Their literal distance is a nod to the figurative distance between them after everything that has transpired.
The final song of the show is less than two minutes long. It begins with Evan writing another letter to himself, and it’s a nice bookend for the musical. Evan clearly seems more comfortable with who he is and what he has become in this letter than in the opening letter, and this change, which is the underlying plot of the entire show, can be seen through just these two letters.
After the letter, the seven other characters can be heard softly and gently singing a reprise of “For Forever.” The lyrics do not significantly change from the original until the last line, which is sung by only Evan: “All I see is light for forever.” In every other line of both songs, the line is “All we see” rather than “All I see”. This subtle yet impactful change illustrates a few things: first, that Evan has moved on from the lies he told in the past. He no longer includes Connor, meaning the line is no longer a lie.
Second: that Evan’s version of Connor, which he had previously seen as a separate person, is now a part of Evan. Third: that Evan is looking toward his future rather than just focusing on one day. And fourth: that Evan looks toward his future with confidence and independence. He is comfortable being his own person and has high hopes for what he can accomplish.
The show closes with one final chord that encapsulates the orchestrations of every song by including piano, strings, guitar, and cymbals. Once again, this is a nontraditional musical theatre ending, but it is well-suited for DEH.
“Dear Evan Hansen,
Today is going to be a good day, and here’s why:
Because today, today at least you’re you,
And that’s enough.”