The Group Scoop | Dear Evan Hansen: Creating a Truly Current Musical
After a long journey, Dear Evan Hansen will open on Broadway at the Belasco Theater this November. The musical, a truly original story about teenagers and their families, has a score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and a book by Steven Levenson—all “millennials” and all at the forefront of the next generation of musical theatre writers.
“We wanted to write about what it meant to grow up in the 21st century and how growing up now is different than ever before,” Pasek said. “We wanted to write about technology and family and how generations relate to each other.” The musical, inspired by true events, focuses on the struggles of adolescence in our social media-obsessed culture and how people react in the face of tragedies.
“In the most challenging moments, there’s a need to be connected to people,” Paul said. “We wanted to look at why that seems to be the case, with the social media connections people have—are we less connected than ever? What lengths do we go to, as people, to be connected to something, and be part of a story and part of a community?”
Creating a musical from scratch meant that Dear Evan Hansen spent a long time in development, through readings, workshops, and a run at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., before moving to off-Broadway’s Second Stage Theatre last season. The process, Pasek said, gave the creators a chance to see how the audience responded to different moments and to make necessary changes.
The run at Second Stage let them see how a New York audience reacted to the piece. “Now that we’re making the move to Broadway, we’re looking at all the things that work and we’re tinkering with the things we think can improve it, and we’re trying to make it the best version of what it can be.” According to Pasek, the team is still looking at the piece with a critical eye before the November opening and asking major questions. “Is there something we want to change? Is there something we want to build on? Was this not fleshed out enough? Was this fleshed out too much?”
The goal of the creators was to craft a musical that would appeal to multiple generations and a wide range of groups, but also to families in particular. “One of our fears was that it would be a show that felt like it was just for young people,” Paul said. During the D.C. run, the creative team noticed that parents would come on their own and then return with their teenagers, or that teenagers would come and then see the show again with their parents. “It really does open up a dialogue between those two generations,” he said. “And that’s what the show is about. It’s about family. It’s about the challenges of growing up today, of being a person in America, and what it feels like to be isolated and what it feels like to be part of a community.”
“The thing we discovered is that there was a real desire for people of all ages to see the show and bring family members or loved ones so they could then talk about those issues,” he continued. “Kids would say, ‘Come watch the show. This is what it’s like.’ Or parents would say to their kids, ‘Come watch the show. I want you to understand what it’s like for me to be your parent.’ Anyone of any age can enjoy the show. It’s really wide open.”
While Dear Evan Hansen has spent several years in development, it takes place in 2016, and the creative team has been editing it to make sure it stays current. “We’re honored that a lot of the people who have come to see the show really feel like they have seen their lives onstage,” Pasek said. “They feel like they’re seeing truth and what it means to be alive today in the 21st century accurately depicted onstage.” Those elements, he said, include the role social media plays in people’s lives, the way people talk to each other—or don’t talk to each other—the relationships that kids and their parents have today and even parental fears: “Like not knowing what your kid is doing and the whole secret world online, and feeling like there are chasms between who your kid is who you want them to be and wishing you knew the whole secret life that is happening with your child that you’re not necessarily privy to.”
The creative team, he added, has been “really touched that so many people have felt like what is onstage is an accurate representation of the world that they live in.”
A TRUE BALANCING ACT WITH HOFESH SHECHTER
Fiddler on the Roof is a tale of family, love and tradition that reaches beyond the small Russian town of Anatevka. Starring Danny Burstein and Jessica Hecht, this new production features stunning movement and dance from Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter based on the original staging by Jerome Robbins. You only have a few more months to see this acclaimed revival.
One of the most iconic sequences in the musical is Motel and Tzeitel’s wedding—with Robbins’s famed “Bottle Dance” as its centerpiece. And now you can learn the dance yourself! Learn the steps from Shechter and Associate choreographer Christopher Evans in this fun video. L’chaim!