Words fail to describe positive impact of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’


Skylar Cassel

The playbill for 'Dear Evan Hansen' in front of its stage at the Music Box Theatre in New York City on March 28, 2018. In the playbill, Benj Pasek, a composer for the musical, stated that "the show is loosely based on an event [he] experienced in high school."


Thousands of fans have been clamoring to see the popular and extremely well-made and enjoyable Broadway show Dear Evan Hansen ever since it hit the stage in 2016 – and for good reason. Dear Evan Hansen is a contemporary musical about a boy named Evan Hansen, currently played by Taylor Trensch, who has problems with anxiety and suicidal thoughts, leading him to get mixed up in the lives of Connor Murphy and his family. When Connor Murphy, currently played by Mike Faist, ends up dead with Evan’s suicide note in the form of a letter in his pocket, Evan is pulled in to a lie about him and Connor being friends that quickly spirals out of control. Even though Evan knows that manipulating the Murphys is wrong, how can he stop when it leads to a romance with Connor’s sister, currently played by Laura Dreyfuss, Zoe?

Dear Evan Hansen is loved by many for its commentary on mental illness and the realistic depictions of characters and how they deal with their problems. This popularity led the musical to win multiple Tonys in 2017 for Best Musical, Best Orchestrations, Best Book of a Musical, Best Score, and more. Alex Lacaimore, the man who made the orchestrations for Dear Evan Hansen, also helped direct and create the music for the hit show Hamilton. Ben Platt, the original actor who played Evan, won a Tony for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for said performance and has also been in popular movies such as the Pitch Perfect series. Clearly, the creators of this show put a lot of work and talent in to the musical, and it shows.

From the moment the show begins, subtle and clever jokes and references that crowds of all ages can understand are snuck in. Instead of the usual cast member coming over the intercom and instructing the audience to turn off their cell phones and cameras, there are several tall, see-through screens on stage that display “notifications” from the phone and camera apps, telling the audience to turn their devices off while playing a loud noise that attracts audience’s attention. The musical continues to use these screens throughout the show to display e-mails, social media pages, pictures, messages, and other internet-related things in order to show the audience what the characters are typing or looking at on their phones and laptops. The clever technical use tells the audience what they need to know in a subtle and refreshing way that doesn’t hold the story up.

[The composers] have managed to find a completely appropriate musical expression for each character, with a fresh, contemporary sound.”

— Michael Greif

However, the technical aspects of the show, though impressive, weren’t the best part. The actors were – specifically, the actor who played Evan Hansen, Taylor Trensch. Any long-time fan of Dear Evan Hansen who has doubts about seeing the show because Ben Platt doesn’t play the lead role anymore should cast those worries aside. Trensch’s portrayal of Evan was extremely realistic, which was crucial for such a complex and broken character. Evan has crippling anxiety, which Trensch shows in subtle ways throughout the show by wiping his hands on his chest and shirt repeatedly, tugging at his collar and the bottom of his shirt, blinking hard and nervously, chewing his nails, and other little ticks that clue the audience in on Evan’s mental illness. There was also a scene in which Evan had a panic attack, where Trensch fell down and was shaking and gasping for breath for a while, tears running down his face, before slowly recovering and getting up. Multiple scenes, many of them in the second act where Evan’s lie starts to unravel and destroy his life, demand a realistic portrayal of true hopelessness and misery from Trensch, which he delivers on; he’s able to cry on cue frequently, and the most heartbreaking sight for the audience is to watch conversations between the characters that negatively affect Evan and look over to see him crying. Trensch’s performance was so realistic and true to Evan that it made the story that much more engrossing and tear-jerking.

The music in Dear Evan Hansen was also enjoyable. This musical was able to pull the exact right moods from the audience with every song, from the sad, heartbreaking ballads like “Words Fail” to the hopeful, motivational numbers like “You Will Be Found.” Each singer’s voice was perfect for their character, the song they were singing, and the scene that the song took place in. For example, Evan’s voice in “For Forever,” in which he’s describing a joyful and carefree day with Connor, has a light and happy tone, but in “Waving Through A Window,” when he’s singing about how alone and anxious he feels, his tone is much more desperate and miserable.  As Michael Grief, the director of the musical, expertly states in the playbill, “[The composers] have managed to find a completely appropriate musical expression for each character, with a fresh, contemporary sound.” “You Will Be Found,” a song that is inspiring enough on its own, was made even more amazing to watch with all the characters singing together and facing Evan, as opposed to the scenes in “Waving Through A Window” where they turned away and ignored him. The play on previous scenes and songs made this number that much more powerful and was the perfect ending of the first act.

Overall, Dear Evan Hansen had amazing actors, characters, songs, technical aspects, and jokes. Though said jokes are probably not the best for young children or people who are easily offended by sexual innuendos and cursing, they had great timing and were perfect for the characters and scenes they were involved with. However, this show might not be for people who are sensitive to mentions or portrayals of panic attacks, suicide, and other related topics. If someone isn’t bothered by the aforementioned touchy subjects, then Dear Evan Hansen is an amazing, funny, and touching musical that they should definitely consider seeing.