Review: Dear Evan Hansen brings hope, emotion to listeners

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Review: Dear Evan Hansen brings hope, emotion to listeners

A promotional poster for the musical

A promotional poster for the musical "Dear Evan Hansen." The album "Dear Evan Hansen" is available on Spotify and iTunes.

Photo credit: nyc-arts.org

A promotional poster for the musical "Dear Evan Hansen." The album "Dear Evan Hansen" is available on Spotify and iTunes.

Photo credit: nyc-arts.org

Photo credit: nyc-arts.org

A promotional poster for the musical "Dear Evan Hansen." The album "Dear Evan Hansen" is available on Spotify and iTunes.

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“Disappear,” “For Forever” and “Words Fail” are all powerful phrases closely related to the teenage experience. However, they are also repeated in the lyrics of Broadway musical album “Dear Evan Hansen.” The album is poignant without being preachy, comedic without being distasteful and impactful without being clichéd.

“Dear Evan Hansen” tells the story of socially awkward high school senior Evan, who is assigned by his therapist to write letters to himself, the first line being ‘Dear Evan Hansen.’ When fellow student Connor Murphy steals this note and later takes his own life, Evan gets caught up in a web of deceit with one crowning lie: he and Connor were secretly best friends.

The album, composed by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, won the Tony for Best Score in 2017. Pasek and Paul also have an Oscar for their work on the 2016 film “La La Land” and a Golden Globe for their song in 2017’s “The Greatest Showman.”

According to an interview with Playbill, the story is based on an experience that Pasek had in high school. One of Pasek’s classmates, who no one knew very well, died of a drug overdose.

Suddenly, students “started to remember things differently and people became obsessed with this person that had passed,” the writer of the musical’s script, Steven Levenson, said. “Everybody seemed to want to be included in this tragedy.”

Pasek and Paul’s musical narrative begins with the sardonic yet poignant song “Anybody Have A Map?”, with vocals from both Evan and Connor’s mothers. Despite funny lyrics and smoothly transitioned quippy dialogue, the song reveals the more serious side of familial relationships. The mothers are clearly unsure of how to really connect with their sons, and this effect on their families echoes throughout the soundtrack. Perhaps even more powerful is the popular ballad “Waving Through a Window,” in which Evan laments his isolation and inability to connect with his peers.

These songs are more than just Broadway jaunts. They dig deep into the fabric of modern society and relate to universal emotions like loneliness and disconnection.

After these two powerful songs, the album hits its narrative stride. In “For Forever,” Evan comes up with an enlightening and hopeful story to tell Connor’s family. He also expresses his love for Connor’s sister Zoe in “If I Could Tell Her.” Later, Connor’s family wrestles with his death in “Requiem” and reveals the different forms grief takes. The family members have radically different takes on Connor, with his sister even calling him a “monster.”

The album is definitely a tear-jerker, but it also inspires its listeners to action, and to support those in their lives who are struggling. It reminds each of us that though loneliness creeps into all of our lives, “you are not alone.”

Nowhere is the message more apparent than “You Will Be Found,” the song that ends the first half of the musical with a bang. Evan gives an inspiring speech, which goes viral on social media.  It carries a powerful message for the listeners, and directly addresses them as “you.” It brings motifs from earlier songs back into the story and empowers its listeners to spread its message of hope.

Though the lyrics are poignant, emotional power also comes from the album’s instruments. Soaring violins and jaunty piano pieces set the tone for both wistful and comedic songs. The voices, particularly Ben Platt’s, who plays Evan, are equally beautiful. Part of the beauty of Platt’s portrayal lies in its imperfection: at emotional points in the story, Evan’s voice breaks and he even cries while singing. Every note is a fiber in the beautiful fabric of the story.

The beautifully imperfect pieces of music come in the second half of the album, which deals more directly with Evan’s feelings and motivations. In “Words Fail,” Evan tries to explain to Connor’s family why he pretended they were friends. He sobs and sniffles between lines, revealing that his feigned friendship with Connor gave him “everything [he] wanted” and that he “never had the Dad who stuck it out,” the “perfect girl,” or “mom who just was there/ because mom was all that she had to be.” The tears don’t end in this song and carry over into an incredibly moving and emotional “So Big/ So Small,” in which Evan’s mother explains the absence of Evan’s father.

Between each song the impactful story comes together, weaving a script full of quips, quirkiness and many moments of overpowering emotion. Evan develops a meaningful connection with every member of Connor’s family, and the story reveals how an ordinary teen can become a source of inspiration.

However, the script and lyrics also show the dark side of idealization. Evan becomes a different person, abandoning his friends in favor of the fame he has gained from his lie. Additionally, Connor becomes an extension of others rather than himself, which begs the question: does it matter if a person was “a monster” in reality if people see him as a symbol of light and hope?

The album ends simply, with “Finale,” a song that lasts less than two minutes. It has an overwhelming message of reflection and self-acceptance and leaves the audience wanting more, with many unanswered questions. However, we too, are only looking through a window into Evan’s life. “Finale” gives the impression that the story goes on past the song’ final line, and Pasek and Paul don’t grant the listener a perfect Hollywood ending.

From tragic school shootings to dark satirical material such as “Heathers,” we are further desensitized every day to the deaths of young people. The lyrics of “Dear Evan Hansen” humanize the effect of someone taking their own life and portray the chaos and confusion that follows.

“Dear Evan Hansen” can be found on Spotify and iTunes. The musical currently plays on Broadway in New York and is traveling around the country on a national tour.

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Dear Evan Hansen
  • Originality
  • Lyrics
  • Technical Quality
  • Enjoyment
  • Impact
4.8

Summary

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s “Dear Evan Hansen” serves as the basis for the Tony award-winning musical of the same name. The album tells the story of awkward high school senior Evan, who gets caught up in a lie: that he was best friends with Connor Murphy, his peer and a victim of suicide. The songs reflect the trials and tribulations of the teenage years, and will inspire both uncontrollable laughter and crushing heartbreak.