You are here
Home > Analysis > Waving Through a Window with Evan Hansen

Waving Through a Window with Evan Hansen

What has six Tony Awards and one broken arm? The breakthrough Broadway show Dear Evan Hansen is causing quite the stir along Broadway and obviously for good reason. The show dominated this years’ Tony Awards and took home the honor of Best Musical. Audiences have fallen in love with the socially awkward character that is Evan Hansen.  So, who is Evan Hansen and what makes his story different?

This is Dear Evan Hansen  

Dear Evan Hansen first premiered at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. in July of 2015. It opened with Ben Platt staring as Evan Hansen and the majority of the now original Broadway cast. It eventually made its way to the Off Broadway stage at Second Stage Theatre in May of 2016. It was not long after that it officially opened on Broadway in December 2016. Audiences knew the show was going to be a success from the beginning. The theatre sold over $10 million in advance ticket sales! Today, the show sells out every night and brings in almost two million in ticket sale revenue a show. Die hard fans will go as far as camping outside of the Music Box Theatre in hopes of snagging a ticket.

Writers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul met in the summer of 2003 at the University of Michigan. Although both aspiring actors, the dynamite duo eventually began writing and composing music. Some of their earlier work includes A Christmas Story, The Musical, and Dogfight. Most recently, the duo worked on songs for the major motion picture LaLaLand which earned 14 Academy Award nominations. Their song City Of Stars took home the Oscar for Best Original Song. Now, with a Tony for Best Original Score, these two could be on the fast track towards achieving EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) status. 

The story behind Dear Evan Hansen stems from one of the lyricists personal experience. Pasek used his own struggles and complex situation from his time at his Philadelphia high school for inspiration.

Director Michael Greif is no stranger to his shows becoming major successes and no stranger of owning a few award titles of his own. He is the director behind the 1990’s hit Rent which won the Tony for Best Musical in 1996. Not to mention, he has been nominated for four Tony awards for Best Director. The book is by Steven Levenson who also took home a Tony for Best Book. 

With a powerhouse of creators a standout cast was bound to follow.

Ben Platt, who plays Evan, is a California native and is experiencing full out stardom at only the age of 23.  Platt is no stranger to playing the awkward outsider character. Audiences raved over his goofy, lovable performance as Benji in Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2. Platt says his personal childhood doesn’t relate to Evan Hansen but he can relate to the idea of living in a different world and wanting a different path for himself. Platt’s outstanding performance in DEH landed him a Tony Award for Best Actor this year.

Meet Evan

Evan Hansen is a high school senior who’s only wish is to fit in and for someone to notice him. However, after a series of unfortunate event thrusts him into the spotlight, Evan begins to question if popularity really is the solution to his problems. Evan Hansen suffers from severe social anxiety disorder and the audience gets front row seats along his journey to coping and dealing with his disorder all while addressing serious topics like depression and suicide in a social media driven world.

To cope with his anxiety, Evan writes himself pep-talk letters all beginning with “Dear Evan Hansen.” Connor Murphy, the school bully, gets ahold of one of these letters and his family finds it with him after Connor tragically commits suicide. In fear of offending the family, Evan creates an entire false friendship with Connor. The lies get thicker and thicker as he becomes closer and closer with Connor’s family, even dating Zoe Murphy, Connor’s sister. The story of their friendship and Evan’s emotional motivational speech at a school assembly honoring Connor goes viral. Over night Evan goes from invisible to the topic of everyones conversations. However, things eventually start to spiral out of control.

Same Old Story?

There is something about the Dear Evan Hansen narrative that strikes a nerve. The show is young, timely, and fresh and most importantly, relatable. Vanity Fair quoted Pasek and Paul saying the wanted to, “stretch the Broadway musical” and “tell a story that hasn’t been told before.” Image result for can't buy me love

The writers of Dear Evan Hansen wanted to do something different, which they did, but when looking at the roots of the show’s storyline a familiar plot begins to surface. It’s the classic tale of outcast turn popular- the stuff chick flicks and 80’s romantic comedies thrive off of. The unpopular, unnoticed, socially awkward outcast finds some way to make it in the popular crowd where eventually things start to fall apart. The cause of their climb to popularity and the source of their demise is all based on a lie.  Some famous examples include Easy A, Never Been Kissed, She’s All That, and Can’t Buy Me Love. Other movies like The Duff, John Tucker Must Die, and Mean Girls all follow adapted versions of this stereotypical high school drama.

Dear Evan Hansen may sound like your typical high school outcast turn popular IT kid storyline but in fact it strays far from it. The story has evolved and here’s how.

Breaking it Down

To understand the important transition that has taken place with teen  entertainment let’s take a look at the denotative and connotative meanings behind the symbols in Dear Evan Hansen.

Image result for Dear evan hansen set

When walking into The Music Box Theater the first thing you’ll notice is the size. For a Tony Award winning show the theater is fairly small. The stage setup is simple and constantly changing. Evan’s room is a single bed and nightstand. The Murphy’s home is represented either by a kitchen table, a single couch, or Connor’s room. Connor’s room, which resembles Evan’s room, is also a single bed and nightstand. The sets are built on rolling tables so they can be moved quickly from scene to scene. Hanging above and behind the stage are giant screens. These screens change with each scene along with the rollaway set pieces. For example, if Evan is in his room on his phone or laptop everyone in the audience can see what he’s looking at: Instagram feed, Facebook posts, and tweet. Pictures will also be shown on the screens to act as a backdrop. An example of this is when inside the Murphy’s home you can ‘see’ out into their backyard. The characters each have a different but similar appearance. Mrs. Murphy wears yoga pant or a clean cut outfit. Mr. Murphy usually wears a suit and Zoe wears jeans and t-shirts. Connor Murphy wears black and has long stringy hair. Evan typically wears blue or muted colored shirts and sports a bright white cast that has “Connor” written down the side. The cast is gone for the second half of the show. Ms. Hansen wears scrubs and usually has messy hair. She too goes through an outfit change in the second half of the show- scrubs to more casual clothing. At the end of the show the giant screens disappear and Zoe and Evan sit in a grove of newly planted trees. The background is blue and a single bench sits in the park. 

Looking at the observations above we can begin to pick apart the deeper meaning behind Dear Evan Hansen and why it stands out from other story lines of its kind. To begin, the simplicity of the stage setup compared to the over powering screens hanging form the ceiling of the stage. The entire cast of Dear Evan Hansen is only eight people, and those eight people have a huge responsibility to help the audience see what isn’t there. By the end of the show you feel a connection to each of those eight people. The smallness of the theater allows you to feel extremely close to each actor or actress. The use of such a small cast really hits home the feeling of loneliness and desperation behind the characters. For example, Evan is supposedly surrounded by an entire busy hallway of people while singing “Waving Through a Window” but no one is on stage with him. That song in particular is crucial in trying to understand the underlying message behind Dear Evan Hansen.  This idea of a window that is keeping Evan from connecting and being understood is symbolic for a computer screen or cellphone screen. He’s tap, tap, tapping on the glass of social media. Those big looming screens that hang over the stage and actors is a constant stream of the social media, a giant ‘window’ that nobody can hear Evan’s actual cries and need for attention.

Evan’s cast is a huge symbol of his journey throughout the show. Looking again at the lyrics from “Waving Through a Window” we can see a deeper meaning behind the cast and the cause of it. “When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around, do ever really crash or even make a sound?” This line becomes even more impactful when later on in the show we discover that Evan’s fall from a tree was actually a suicide attempt. He is desperate for anyone to really notice him. So much so, he has reached a point where he doesn’t believe anyone would even notice if he was gone. The cast is a constant reminder to him of what almost happened.  After a run-in at school, Connor’s name is written in big black letters along it for the entire first act. There are so many similarities between Connor and Evan. The cast represents both the outcomes of each of their struggles and the cause and effect of Evan’s lie. As the story continues Evan begins to build confidence through his false friendship with Connor. Eventually, the cast is taken off along with Connor’s name. Evan finally begins to feel accepted and eventually doesn’t feel like he needs Connor’s story as a crutch to fit in and be noticed. As Evan’s lie spirals out of control he eventually faces the dilemma head on. He has built his courage and has accepted himself for who he is. The closing scene brings everything together. A new orchard in Connor’s name is full of baby trees, just beginning to sprout, symbolic of a new beginning for everyone in the cast. The screens are gone and Evan can finally stand on his own without Connor’s story or without social media fame. As the scene a light shines down on Evan as he finally is able to step into the sun.

What makes Dear Evan Hansen different is it focuses directly on the topic of teen mental illness and teen suicide, specifically focusing on social media driven world we live in today. It takes a topic that has been hush-hush in the media for years and dives head first into the reality of it. However, doing so in a way that is appropriate and clear. Audience are raving because it strikes a personal cord with anyone who has struggled or is struggling with these same or similar issues. It raw, real, and timely, and most importantly brings up a conversation that shouldn’t be overdramatized, made fun of, or push aside any longer.

So What?

Society is changing, that’s old news. What is new in today’s world is how it’s changing. With the invention of social media and other forms of mass communications we are adapting and moving at a very fast and public rate. Now, the desire to be loved is not new news either. Love is one of our very basic needs. We, the rising generation, are beginning to base our self worth not on genuine love but on the number of likes, retweets, and comments we receive on our curated, edited lives. The real issues are shoved  behind doors while our prosthetic picture perfect feeds are saying everything’s okay. Inside we are screaming NOTICE ME. Sometimes this can feel like a broken record but the realization of the issue is scary. This is why Dear Evan Hansen stands out and is changing the way teen entertainment should be portrayed.

In the eighties it was Molly Ringwald feeling forgotten by her family on her birthday and crushing on the popular guy in Sixteen Candles. It was Patrick Dempsey paying the popular girl to date him so he could fit in with the popular kids in Can’t Buy Me Love. It was the outsiders desperately wanting to be noticed by the popular kids. In the 90’s it was Freddie Prinze Jr. transforming Rachael Leigh Cook into the hot, it-girl of school in She’s All That. The 2000’s began to introduce new technology into this teenage narrative with movies like Easy A and The Duff. The storylines from the past all have shallow plots while Evan Hansen takes the plunge into reality. Dear Evan Hansen isn’t just a show for entertainment but a movement. Too many people feel alone and forgotten and sadly not all of them follow Evan’s path but instead follow Connor’s. I believe this transition is a representation of society’s realization into the seriousness of mental illness like depression or anxiety. There is always more to someones story. We need to take the time to open that window to let those people know we really see them.

So, say hello to a stranger, open someone’s door, text, better yet CALL, someone you haven’t talked to in a while. We need you, I need you, they need you. And if you’re that person, you’re Evan Hansen standing on that dark lonely stage just silently screaming, waving, and waiting- you will be found.

Waving Through A Window

I’ve learned to slam on the brake
Before I even turn the key
Before I make the mistake
Before I lead with the worst of me
Give them no reason to stare
No slipping up if you slip away
So I’ve got nothing to share
No, I got nothing to say

Step out, step out of the sun
If you keep getting burned
Step out, step out of the sun
Because you’ve learned, because you’ve learned

On the outside always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?
’cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
I’m waving through a window
I try to speak, but nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear

While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
I’m waving through a window
Oh, can anybody see, is anybody waving
Back at me?

We start with stars in our eyes
We start believing that we belong
But every sun doesn’t rise
And no one tells you where you went wrong

Step out, step out of the sun
If you keep getting burned
Step out, step out of the sun
Because you’ve learned, because you’ve learned

On the outside always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?
’cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
Waving through a window
I try to speak, but nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
Waving through a window
Oh, can anybody see, is anybody waving?

When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound
When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound
When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound
When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound
Did I even make a sound
Did I even make a sound
It’s like I never made a sound
Will I ever make a sound?

On the outside always looking in
Will I ever be more than I’ve always been
’cause I’m tap, tap, tapping on the glass
Waving through a window
I try to speak
But nobody can hear
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I’m watch, watch, watching people pass
Waving through a window
Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me?
Oooh, is anybody waving
Waving, waving, whoa-oh, whoa-oh-oh-oh

 

Leave a Reply

Top
css.php