‘Dear Evan Hansen’: A Letter from Loneliness

Have you ever felt like nobody was there?
Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?
Have you ever felt like you could disappear?
Like you could fall, and no one would hear?

How were your high school years? If you weren’t a cheerleader, prom queen or football player, you might have felt full to the brim with doubt and hopelessly infatuated with a dream boat on a romance that never sailed. “Dear Evan Hansen” is about the titular character whose life takes an amazing turn for the better because of some ethically questionable decisions.

How you like “Dear Evan Hansen” will depend on how you like your musicals. The music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul works well with Steven Levenson’s book. But leaving the musical , there’s no hook that will snag your musical memory brain center. I can’t remember a single tune or lyrical phrase. I’m wasn’t humming a single tune nor hoping to sing a single phrase. What I do remember is the feeling–melancholy and wishful thinking.

Do you need a hero? Evan Hansen, played with high caffeine level nervous energy by Ben Levi Ross, isn’t handsome, he isn’t kind and he isn’t a fully formed human. He’s an awkward teen. His divorced mother (Jessica Phillips) is busy working and getting a degree to put her on the road to a better job. She encourages her son. Evan can’t communicate well with people–by email, social media or up close and in person. He’s shy but percolates with feeling that bursts out in a tumble of unwisely chosen words. His unseen therapist has prescribed a letter a day: Each day, Evan must write a letter to himself, giving himself a pep talk and hoping that positive thinking will make things better.

The first day of school after a summer vacation, Evan decides he’ll try and get people to sign the cast on his broken arm. He fails to get the girl of his dreams, Zoe (Maggi McKenna), to sign but he does get Zoe’s brother, Connor (Marrick Smith), to sign. Connor also takes the letter Evan printed out and it’s found in his pocket after he has died. Connor, like Evan, was a lonely soul, but it was his anger and not shyness that kept people away.

Reading the letter, Connor and Zoe’s parents (Aaron Lazar and Christiane Noll), mistakenly think that Evan was Connor’s only friend. Evan gets an acquaintance, Jared (Jared Goldsmith), to help him make the subterfuge convincing. A distant acquaintance of Connor’s, Alana Beck (Phoebe Koyabe), also steps into the spotlight to raise awareness and her own profile. Alana and Evan become the twin forces behind a fundraising effort with Jared the third and sometimes unwitting and unwilling wheel.

Evan grows up emotionally, but there will be no fairytale ending. Instead, there’s a message of hope. “Dear Evan Hansen” is about waiting to find that light at the end of the tunnel, of continuing to struggle because “You will be found.”

I should reveal that my last best friend was a woman who had come to Los Angeles with a dream: a graduate degree in the sciences. She failed, but continued on as an employee in the department that had crushed her academic dreams. She committed suicide and I was tasked with telling her non-work, non-departmental friends. She was so talented and she also wished to be loved. I wish she had known how her death hit to many people. I cut off my long hair and mourned for a year. I haven’t forgotten her. She was not forgotten.

Her death was before social media and before crowdsourcing. No one became famous because of her or gained socially or financially. But we are all poorer because she is not here today. “Dear Evan Hansen” reminds us all that we need to reach out now before it is too late. If you like your musicals with deep emotional content and spiritual growth on a high key and lessons served in a low key, then you’ll like “Dear Evan Hansen.” The Broadway production received six Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found

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