I’ll just put it out there: Take your kids to Dear Evan Hansen. Buy tickets now. You may have to wait months, but it’s worth the wait. As a dad, I can say that this is a show that will illuminate and deepen the relationship you have with your kids—and the one they have with you.
I saw it recently with my two sons. I knew it would be emotional. But as they said, it broke them. It forced them to feel. That’s no small thing in a world in which connectivity has frequently replaced actual human connection. Now, don’t let my sons’ experience dissuade you. It’s good to be broken from time to time. And even better, it’s created a great many new things for the three of us to talk about.
Dear Evan Hansen is not an epic, grand show. It’s actually quite intimate. Its smallness, its closeness, gives it license to work its audiences’ emotions the way it does.
Evan is a socially awkward high school senior raised by a single mom. He’s in therapy, and he has to write himself letters to buck up his attitude now and then. One of those letters falls into the hands of another senior, Connor, who soon after kills himself. Connor’s parents find Evan’s letter and think it’s their son’s suicide note.
That one misunderstanding drives the musical and creates a skein of lies that quickly spins out of control. I won’t say more—spoilers—except to say that the letter is a catalyst that changes the lives of all the characters here. It’s rough, raw, brilliant stuff.
With a book by Steven Levenson and songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen is a searing portrait of people torn apart by death, desperation, and deception. The script and the songs don’t just dig deep into emotions; they slice right down into them. Remarkably, the creators get everything right. They get the personalities of these characters—not just who they are, but who they wish they were. They get the complexities of their relationships, and the world of hope and disappointment that energize them every day.
They get Evan’s loneliness. They get his mom, Heidi, who means well but is too busy with work to spend enough time with him. Evan’s father left long ago, leaving Heidi and Evan unfulfilled yet longing for a connection they can’t name.
Connor’s family is also a mess. Hoping to connect with something, his mother tries every fad diet and self-awareness scheme that comes along. His dad never quite understood his son and resents his suicide. And his sister, Zoe, a lonely girl with high emotional walls, has a tough time mourning Connor because he wasn’t the brother she wanted. Or needed.
How was such a show created? That’s the subject of a new book, Dear Evan Hansen: Through the Window. The book itself was a natural, but it goes as far and digs as deep as the musical whose origins it reveals. Detailed essays about the show’s creative team bring wonderful illumination to the musical. How did the songwriters dream it up? What about the original idea inspired lead producer Stacey Mindich? How do you create a new musical from scratch?
In this wonderful book, you’ll get the origins of songs, tossed-out lyrics, stories about the actors, tales of the early versions of the show and the workshops that revealed what improvement and refinements needed to made, and much more, including hundreds of photographs and the entire libretto.
And it’s the libretto where the musical comes alive. Those razor-sharp songs. Each one tackles a new topic, a new frustration, a new hope. And each relates to us as much as it relates to the characters.
Are you a parent who doesn’t quiet know how to talk to your kids? Yes. Are you a kid who doesn’t quite know how to get into life the way other kids do? Yes. Ever dream about a perfect day spent with your best friend? Of course. There are songs here about all of those things.
Many of the songs are about figuring out relationships: kids with other kids, kids with parents. This is complex stuff, and the songs’ questions are what make them so deeply compelling. As much as they’re about knowing, even more they’re about not knowing. Not knowing what to say, not knowing what to do, not knowing how to connect.
There are emotional wallops at every turn, as characters lay themselves bare. Have you ever felt like you were alone? Do we matter? If we fall, is there someone who will pick us up? No matter where you are in life, whether you’re a kid or a parent, there are moments in this show that will change the way you think, the way you feel, and maybe the way you live after the finale’s final notes fade out.
The Dear Evan Hansen songs are filled with truths about the human condition that musical-theater songs seldom even try to capture, certainly not to this degree. We’ve all felt the things these songs are about. The lyrics are relentless, even merciless, in their honesty.
They will inspire you and they’ll inspire your kids. To think. To talk. To be. To relate in new ways. So I say again: go.
One more thing: Dear Evan Hansen is a wet show. Lots of tears and runny noses. The tears come because the show is so damn honest. It’s got a deeply touching purity. Along the road to an ending about self-acceptance and hope, not a single punch is pulled. Evan is a young man who dared to hope, dared to act—and look what happened. Disaster. But then survival. At the end, he knows he still has some growing to do. Don’t we all?