Dear Evan Hansen, a new Broadway musical showing in the Music Box Theatre, follows a senior in high school, Evan Hansen (Ben Platt), who struggles with an undefined anxiety disorder, as he gets caught in a lie centering his relationship with Connor Murphy (Mike Faist), a peer that committed suicide. He partners with his friends, Jared Kleinman (Will Roland) and Alana Beck (Kristolyn Lloyd), to help him elaborate on his lie; during this, he also pursues Connor’s sister, Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss), who he has a crush on. Featuring Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2 star Ben Platt, this musical puts into perspective the force of trust, honesty, and love, and the power of the internet.
The audience is able to find personality quirks that they share with each of the main characters, Evan Hansen’s anxious fidgeting, Jared Kleinman’s sarcastic humor, Zoe Murphy’s searching for her place in her family, Connor Murphy’s aloofness, Alana Beck’s wishing to be seen. Evan’s symptoms, while quite visible through the show, are not defined as being one particular illness or disorder; star Ben Platt says that whether it is anxiety, autism, etc., that the audience is allowed to define Evan as they choose if they feel it helps them connect to him better. As a junior in high school who deals with anxiety and stress, I understand how Evan feels about communicating with others and the fears that he has. His character is portrayed in such an ingenious and realistic way, due to the phenomenal performance by Ben Platt.
Even parents of students commented on how relatable the parental figures were in this musical. Mother of two, Amy Overholtzer, says that she related most to Evan’s mother, Heidi (Rachel Bay Jones), who worked persistently to support herself and her son.
“As a parent, you want to protect your kid; you always think that what you are doing is the right thing, even if it isn’t. Their understanding that you’re always going to be there for them is kind of a big deal” says Overholtzer.
The prominence of mental illness and suicide is strong in this musical. Audience’s watch as Evan’s anxiety begins to take over, and watch as his relationships are hurt because of his actions. Connor Murphy is refused treatment for illnesses that he showed symptoms for even in the second grade, and were continuously looked over even through drug addiction and his eventual suicide. Both of these students attempt to make friends with each other, and try to find their own place in the world.
“Both Connor and Evan had wanted to fit in… they’re trying to be all aloof and cool, but fitting in was still important to them.” says Overholtzer.
Suicide and untreated mental illness is becoming a growing issue, and they negatively impact middle schools and high schools around the world. In local news, ninth-grader Julia Morath from Spring-Ford High School, had taken her own life as a result of cyber-bullying. The accessibility of the internet is allowing students to invade the lives of others, and can worsen a student’s mental health.
Dear Evan Hansen, while showing both the positive and negative effects of the internet, predominantly shows how messages of hope can be spread from person to person, even through the touch of a button. The stage is filled with long, paneled screens that show social media feeds and letters shared throughout the musical, elaborating on the consistent buzz of technology around teenagers.
“Cyber-bullying is rampant these days… Evan and Jared, by means of anonymity, create a positive relationship with people online.” says Overholtzer.
While the musical itself is dark, it contains a hopeful message that the audience carries home with them. The first act ends with a powerful anthem with each voice declaring “let the sun come streaming in / because you’ll reach up / and you’ll rise again / if you only look around / you will be found”. A college student and fan, Megan Gentleman, spoke about what Dear Evan Hansen meant to her.
“To me, the message of Dear Evan Hansen is that it is important to reach out and help others, and to allow others to help you. Whether it’s your family or a friend, someone will be there for you if you ask.”
If there is any student out there that knows how it feels to be alone, even when you are surrounded by people; to feel hopeless; to “feel like you could disappear” – there is a future for you. You will be a part of something some day. Reach out to a person you trust, and get help if you feel desperate. None of us are alone.