Dear Evan Hansen // photo courtesy of Jeremy Nifras

By: Jeremy Nifras, Contributing Writer.

If you don’t consider yourself to be an emotional person, watching the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen might convince you otherwise.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the Pasek and Paul-written musical (La La Land, The Greatest Showman) focuses on the titular character, a highschooler with a severe case of social anxiety.

When we first meet Evan, he is a teenager struggling to navigate his way through his school’s cliquey social landscape and, despite his disorder, desperately wants to feel connected to his peers. This desperation is exemplified by the musical’s second number, “Waving Through A Window,” which sheds a spotlight on Evan’s fear of social interaction.

Evan’s desire for connection is suddenly realized upon the unexpected and tragic suicide of classmate Connor Murphy, which leads Connor’s grieving parents to mistakenly identify Evan as his closest friend.

Eventually, Evan realizes that lying about his friendship with Connor may help the mourning family in their time of need, and it’s a lie that grows into almost unfathomable proportions through the help of social media.

When I saw the musical, Evan was played by Michael Lee Brown, who put on a spectacular, realistic portrayal of a teenager stricken with social anxiety. He portrayed this by tugging at his shirt and constantly fidgeting with his hands.

During the performance, Brown was an alternate who only performed on certain matinees (unlike the role’s main actor), but anyone who witnessed his emotional prowess on stage would never have guessed. By the end of the show’s third number (and my personal favorite) “For Forever,” it was nearly impossible to find a dry eye in the audience.

Throughout the play, Brown’s portrayal of Evan was truly visceral and raw, and during certain moments one could not help but feel concerned, as Brown was able to showcase anguish effortlessly. During the musical’s most emotional moments, especially during the powerful number “Words Fail,” Brown was heavily sobbing, with tears visibly running down his cheeks, and spit flying from his mouth. 

Dear Evan Hanson // photo courtesy of Jeremy Nifras

Aside from Brown’s terrific performance, it would be unfair not to mention some other members of the musical’s superb cast: Laura Dreyfuss brilliantly portrayed Connor’s sister (and Evan’s crush) Zoe Murphy; Will Roland constantly made the entire audience laugh with his wisecracking performance as Evan’s “family friend” Jared Kleinman, and perhaps the musical’s most memorable performance (Evan withstanding) was Rachel Bay Jones’ emotional portrayal of Evan’s mother, Heidi Hansen.

Despite the common stereotype of Broadway musicals being “too cheesy” and niche, Dear Evan Hansen is an accessible, relatable story for the average teenager. Even though the story is fictional, Evan is faced with the same desires and aspirations that many real American teenagers face today: the constant need to be accepted by those around you, and to “fit in.”

Although many teenagers may not be caught up in a dilemma as problematic as Evan’s, the story’s central themes of relationships, family and emotional support is enough of a hook to bring in anyone willing to give it a chance.