Dear Evan Hansen: illness or immoral?

DEAR EVAN HANSEN cast poses at the Los Angeles premiere on September 22. Getty Images

Amy Parr | Head Editor

September 30, 2021

Dear Evan Hansen shattered records and hearts alike when it premiered on Broadway in the fall of 2016. The musical follows the story of a high school boy, Evan Hansen, as he lies to a grieving family for personal gain, all while coping with severe anxiety. Evan pretends that he was friends with the family’s late son, Connor, after a note stolen from Evan is found in Connor’s pocket when he commits suicide, leading Connor’s family to believe that Connor and Evan were friends. 

Ben Platt, who portrayed Evan during the show’s run off Broadway, as well as in the original Broadway company, has received critical acclaim for his performance. He was awarded the coveted Tony Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical at 23, the youngest ever to do so. Despite now being 28, Platt reprised his role as Evan after not portraying him since 2017 on Broadway. 

ONLY TIME WILL TELL if the film will live up to the success of the musical, which received six Tony Awards. Getty Images / Jim Spellman

Dear Evan Hansen remained on Broadway until the pandemic, when all productions shut down. Fans did not have long to wait, since the movie production version of the musical released on September 24, 2021. With this adaptation, Evan’s story can reach more audiences than ever. 

“It’s a very touching movie, and the message was the main reason I watched it,” junior Briley York said. “However, it made me angry how [Evan] continued to lie, because he was creating this happiness for the family that was all fake and would later be destroyed at the end when the truth came out.” 

While the film does touch on treatment options for mental health (Evan sees a therapist and is on medication for anxiety, as is Alana, a supporting character), these options are clearly unsuccessful for Evan, who uses his condition as an excuse for misleading a vulnerable family. 

“I think that [Evan’s lying] gives the impression that people with certain mental illnesses can’t control their actions and escalate situations, which isn’t the case,” York said. Mental illness is relentless and preys on millions, but cannot be used as an excuse to deliberately dismantle the lives of others. 

“Evan’s lying about Connor seems to be written off and excused due to the fact that he is too afraid to speak up,” York said. If the movie were to include consequences for Evan’s actions (other than social ostracization), the message would be more clear; mental illness is personally debilitating, but should not be used to hurt others. Instead, Evan’s actions suggest that anything is justified with a mental illness.

In the original musical, the number “Good For You,” sung primarily by Evan’s mother, Heidi, exposes Evan’s actions as deceitful deeds done solely in his own self-interest. Unfortunately, this song was cut from the film version, furthering the lack of emphasis on Evan’s cruelty, falsely painting him as an innocent victim, when Evan himself is the true villain of the story.

Aside from the misleading mental illness narrative, the film did make some significant changes to the original Broadway production. After receiving backlash for the mainly Caucasian cast, particularly in the wake of the preceding Best Musical, Hamilton, and it’s revolutionary diversity, the film version of Dear Evan Hansen included more actors and actresses of color. 

THE PERFECT BALANCE: Jared’s blunt humor compliments Evan’s neurotic tendencies. Universal Pictures

“I think that [Nik Dodani] was the perfect Jared, and he was great comic relief for the audience during the slower parts of the movie,” senior Maggie Ortiz said. “My favorite part of the movie was when he, Evan, and Connor sang ‘Sincerely Me,’ which was a nice break from the mostly depressing songs.” 

Unlike Evan’s actions, the songs from the musical clearly encapsulate the issues associated with mental illness. “Waving Through A Window,” painfully captures Evan’s anxiety, which unfortunately resonates with millions across the world, making it the most popular song from the musical. On a different note, “Requiem” touches on the feelings of those whose loved ones are affected by mental illness, a unique perspective that adds depth to the plotline. The film’s intended message is summed up in “You Will Be Found,” which, as the title would suggest, preaches the inter-connectivity of the world, and the importance of not allowing the darkest moments to define us. 

Dear Evan Hansen is a story of anxiety, betrayal, and human connection, and although it certainly has its flaws, anyone looking for an emotional rollercoaster should check it out!

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