Dear Evan Hansen Is a Musical Built for the Social-Media Era

Dear Evan Hansen is a Tony award winning musical and is currently on a national tour. / Jordy Espinoza/ el Don

I would not consider myself a musicals junkie. However, I could make an exception for amazing musicals like the one I just saw recently. That being Dear Evan Hansen at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles. Out of the handful of musicals I have seen in my life I was really only amazed by one before seeing Dear Evan Hansen and that was Hamilton.

What a musical tailor-made for the social media era. The story follows a teenage boy who often struggles with debilitating anxiety whose life is irrevocably changed when a classmate of his commits suicide.

This was no doubt a spectacular show for many reasons, and it’s clear to see why it has amassed the buzz it has.

Dear Evan Hansen is an interesting musical that is very of-the-moment, utilizing tech-savvy stage design that mimics the never-ending stream of tweets and Facebook posts.

The musical follows the titular Evan (played by Ben Levi Ross), who is portrayed as an outcast and is encouraged by his mom Heidi (Jessica Phillips) — a single mother who is rarely home, always hustling at her job as a nurse’s aid or taking classes to become a paralegal in an effort to give her son the best life she can — to write letters to himself to help him cope with his severe social anxiety.

Now, let all the fun and drama begin—a therapy assignment is what gets Evan into a fiasco—he writes a letter that begins with the synonymous saying “Dear Evan Hansen” explaining how alone and hopeless he feels, but it’s picked up in the computer lab by a teen named Connor Murphy (Marrick Smith), a depressed fellow student. It turns out that days later Connor had commited suicide.

Enter a lie that changes the landscape of the show.

When Connor commits suicide his parents find Evan’s letter on Connor leading them and Zoe (Maggie McKenna) to believe that the two were best friends. Soon, Evan is making up stories and fabricating old emails to craft an image of a friendship he never actually had with Connor, and his parents could not be a more riveted audience. From the tragedy, grows a comedy of errors that becomes more than Evan can handle.

Evan continues to dig himself  deeper and deeper into this mess it makes it feel so gradual that it just felt believable. This lie though really takes on more of a life of its own, it starts to own him. Although we feel sorry for him because he is an awkward outcast, Evan is doing an awful thing.

For one, I know that the musical is more complicated, which is why Dear Evan Hansen is fascinating, and is subject to such scrutiny. It makes us question what is morally right and is certainly a “what would you do?” situation.

If it weren’t for Evan’s anxiety and his earnest behavior, he would be a full on villain. We feel sorry enough for him so we begin to empathize with his horrible situation and hope that he comes out of the situation with little to no harm. With an absent dad and a mom who means well but is never there, Evan is desperate to be noticed — and we are rooting for him, I know I was. But then there’s that feeling in the back of your mind or voice saying, “He’s literally sitting on a throne of lies and is getting away with it!”

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We all live in an era where society feeds off of likes, retweets, and acknowledgment of one’s actions via social media. Dear Evan Hansen illustrates the repercussions of the desperation and reckless need to be liked.

Yes, many could argue that Evan’s mental health is a factor in his actions. Now that I’ve really had the time to let it all sink in I think the musical doesn’t dive deep enough into mental health but rather leans into the “effect” of it all. I mean couldn’t this have just been fixed with an exploration of Evan’s mental health instead of just mentioning that he is taking pills and seeing a therapist? A therapist who we never see by the way. Can we get an explanation for that?

Despite the issues with the musical’s portrayal of mental health, Dear Evan Hansen still delivers what it promises: a solid modern-day musical that deserves a spotlight on Broadway.

Ben Levi Ross is fantastic. Throughout the show. Ross’ tendency to start talking way too loud when he’s panicking and to rapidly blink his eyes when stressed is very believable and makes the audience transcend into thinking this is actually who he is.

But what’s a good musical without a good singer? Ross possesses a great voice. I can tell you he earned extended applause from me for his act one performance of “Waving Through a Window.”

Overall, Dear Evan Hansen was an amazing show all-around. Regardless of where you decide Evan’s moral compass falls, the message of the show is important. “You are not alone,” which the cast soulfly sang in “You Will Be Found,” the goosebump act one closer.

Sure, the message isn’t perfect. I believe who Connor actually was as a person is lost in the shuffle—which is sad to say as his death is appropriated for an internet movement. But as the constant notion of feeling depressed grows,  I’m certain that in each audience there is at least one person who desperately needs to hear that they are not alone, because no one is ever alone. I’m glad a show like Dear Evan Hansen exists.

You don’t have to be a person who enjoys musicals to enjoy the show. Like I said, I’m not a musical junkie, but I watched it with a friend who loves musicals and we both enjoyed it equally. So what are you waiting for? Call a significant other, a friend or a family member and treat them to a show they’ll be thanking you later for.

Dear Evan Hansen runs at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre through November 25th. The running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one intermission. To buy tickets head on over to www.centertheatergroup.org or call 213-628-2772 for more ticket info.

 

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