***Trigger Warning: Mentions of depression, anxiety, manipulation, substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide***
Dear Evan Hansen is a coming-of-age Broadway musical with lyrics and score by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul, and a book written by Steven Levenson. The musical was released in December 2016 in the Music Box Theater in New York.
The musical stars Evan, who was assigned by his therapist to write letters to himself to help him cope with some of his mental health struggles, including anxiety, the complete abandonment of his father, and the slight absence of his hard-working mother. Upon coming to school, he had an encounter with his classmate, Connor, who had been known as an outcast within the school and unfortunately, had struggled with depression and substance abuse. The next day, his parents told Evan the tragic news that Connor had died by suicide, leaving him a note before he had passed. Evan quickly realized, however, that the note was the letter he had written to himself the day before. Evan failed to rebut their claims that Connor and Evan were friends, leading the parents to believe it was true. Evan then began to endlessly lie, hoping to spare the family’s feelings.
I first saw Dear Evan Hansen in 2017 and continued to see it a total of four times, both on and off-Broadway. At the time I was in middle school, and I really enjoyed the musical. It quickly became an interest of mine for a while. As a 13-year-old, I focused more on the characters and the music rather than the deeper meaning and themes in the show. But now as an almost 17-year-old, I find myself questioning the musical, especially since the movie is now in theaters. (Which I have not seen).
The musical was continuously advertised as a beacon of awareness for mental health. The song You Will Be Found, was specifically written to help teens around the world feel heard and seen. Lyrics read, “Even when the dark comes crashing through when you need a friend to carry you and when you’re broken on the ground, you will be found.” I personally loved the song and the powerful message behind it, and while I find the song to positively spread awareness on mental health, it doesn’t make up for the themes within the story itself.
The musical frames Evan as the ‘hero’ of the story, when I personally believe he had more villainous intentions, even if they were unconsciously done. The Murphy family completely idolized Evan, the story continuing to try to convey him in a positive way. Evan also uses the family to ‘escape and live in a perfect fantasy,’ forgetting completely about his mother. He was rewarded, gaining a loving family that he would be with every night. Evan additionally gained the love of Zoe, Connor’s sister, their entire relationship based on the lie. He completely thrived in lying about his relationship with Connor just so he could date Zoe. Evan’s manipulation and use of the family helped his anxiety and to better his life, giving young viewers a good light on lying.
In my opinion, Evan ended up being mostly off the hook. After the confession, the family didn’t speak with him again but he suffered no other consequences. No one knew what he had done and he continued to live his life. During the very last scene, Zoe and Evan spoke for the first time since the confession. Zoe decided to be civil and somewhat forgiving, again giving Evan this not-so-deserved redemption.
Throughout the entire story, Evan’s anxiety and depression were continuously the excuses for his actions, and I don’t stand for it. I feel that the story showcased Evan’s anxiety as the villain, which is a very large stereotype in the media, despite the fact that it was truly Evan and his conscious actions that were the villain. This gives impressionable teens and kids the idea that their own doings are excused by mental illnesses, and they will be given no consequence. I also think the story romanticizes mental illness and idolizes the act of lying. Evan as a character is meant to have empathy from the viewers, but I don’t think he or the musical deserves that.
Now that the movie is bringing the story into mainstream media, I am hoping people will realize the true themes that are found within the plot.