Somewhat surprisingly, given my inability to stay away from Broadway, it wasn’t until this weekend that I first gave the Dear Evan Hansen cast recording a proper listen, ever since which I’ve been walking around with my headphones playing nothing else and my jaw dragging along the floor. It’s taken a while to get my head around an eloquent expression of my feelings about this musical, as when I’ve tried to talk about it I’ve struggled to come up with anything better than excited profanity. The music and lyrics of Dear Evan Hansen are a beautiful fusion of contemporary musical theatre writing with more traditional compositions, ensuring they become instant classics, and the story is new and exciting but with timeless emotion.
Imbued with anxieties, the eponymous character writes letters to himself as a form of catharsis, and when one accidentally falls into the possession of a suicidal classmate, Evan is catapulted into the social spotlight. An accidental and uncomfortable lie, fuelled by modern viral phenomena, means that Evan unwittingly capitalises off of his classmates tragedy, and what follows is an exploration of a grief that manifests itself in many different ways.
The songs reveal a version of Evan that exists apart from his anxiety- the audience is allowed into his private internal workings that betray a thoughtful and funny individual behind the bumbling awkwardness he outwardly projects, the lyrics searching for unspoken feelings beyond what such a pathological loner might be able to express. While Evan, delicately portrayed by Ben Platt, speaks in neurotic stutters, he sings in strong and eloquent phrases, absorbing the audience into what he might be underneath all of his quirks.
‘Waving Through a Window’ is the earworm metaphor for Evan’s life on the other side of the proverbial glass to the real world, shut out by his own anxieties. ‘Requiem’ is the heart wrenching expression of a grieving family, some of whom are suffering a disillusionment with what, and who, they are actually grieving- an uncommon but candid examination of how to remember a person that wasn’t easy to love whilst they were living. “Only Us” is one of the most triumphant love songs on Broadway today, making a move away from traditional expressions of grand love, where love transcends and supersedes all other human emotion, and instead brings to life a simple and honest story of nervous, starry-eyed first love.My favourite song by far, however, is “If I Could Tell Her”. As someone who finds it near impossible to express his feelings, Evan is liberated by pretence. By pretending that he is relaying the feelings of someone else, Evan finally tells his hopeless crush how he feels about her smile, her dancing, and how she “draws stars on the cuffs of her jeans”.
And I don’t even know where to start with Ben Platt. My only real experience with him was his goofy portrayal of Benji in the Pitch Perfect films, and while his few lines of singing in the movie were very good, it does nothing to prepare anyone for his incredible talent in Dear Evan Hansen. In any real life situation, his voice would be impossible to disregard, and is completely out of tune with the introverted and lonely character, but somehow Platt manages to fuse a vulnerability with the strength in his voice- an audible illustration of Evan’s contesting personality traits. Platt sings beautifully through the ugliest of emotions and tears, and brings to life a character so much more complex than the archetypal nerdy kid you might be used to seeing on the silver screen.
A flood of Tony nominations are predictable and deserved, particularly for Platt. This is not a show with the stereotypical (although just as amazing) sparkling garnishes that adorn the stages of Broadway. It is a refreshing and original portrayal of an uncomfortable, real scenario that is completely hilarious, heartbreaking and wonderful. My excitement for this musical and apparent inability to say anything negative in it’s direction is not just a sign of me being easily pleased. While Dear Evan Hansen might not be as revolutionary for Broadway as the likes of Hamilton, it certainly fits in with a new wave of contemporary theatre, whilst simultaneously soaring above and beyond previous attempts at new musicals. Dear Evan Hansen does for mental illness what Fun Home did for the LGBTQ+ community, tackling serious issues with degrees of humour and sensitivity. It is another welcome reminder as to why musical theatre just cannot be beaten.