It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know the specifics of Dear Evan Hansen before I took Owen to the see it with me last week. The world premiere musical playing at Arena Stage covers some pretty heavy subject matter that, had I just read or heard about beforehand, likely would have made me decide it was too mature for my 9.5-year-old.
The press materials I’d received ahead of the performance only gave a vague description of the show, though they did say it would appeal to middle schoolers and up. But since Owen isn’t too far off from that age, has a real interest in theatre as both a budding actor and viewer, and is a huge fan of the Pitch Perfect movies in which Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt is a major character, I thought it would be, well, perfect to bring him to the official opening performance with me.
I’m glad I didn’t know the specifics, because it turned out my instincts were right. I couldn’t have asked for a better theatre companion for the show that is both heartening and poignant as it explores aspects of adolescence, family, parenting, and human connection.
Evan Hansen is a teenager longing to fit in and be seen when tragedy coupled with a misunderstanding give him the opportunity to have that and much more — but at the expense of the truth. And while his lie starts with good intentions, it snowballs and forces him to question whether what has been gained is worth what has been compromised.
The story itself is thought-provoking and emotional (I don’t want to spoil it, but you can find plot details here), but it’s the on-stage execution that makes it especially powerful. The performances are brilliant, and every actor makes their characters feel so relatable. Watching Evan Hansen and his peers, I recalled the angst and awkwardness of my own teen years and contemplated what my kids could possibly face in the future (which, accompanied by the stirring music, had me sobbing by the second scene).
Even more, I empathized with all of the parents and the desperation for their children’s happiness, so deep in one case they cling to an incredibly tenuous story. Because as a parent, isn’t that what is paramount in life — our children’s happiness?
Much of this is conveyed through musical numbers that are exceptionally moving and evocative. Tony Award nominees Benj Pasek and Justin Paul did a phenomenal job composing the score, and the talented musicians and cast really did it justice. (Scroll down for a teaser…Owen and I can’t get the song out of our heads.)
Do you ever go to a show — a musical, play, concert, or any kind of live performance — and feel like you’ve just witnessed something really special? That you were part of an experience bonding you with everyone there, even a roomful of hundreds of strangers? That’s Dear Evan Hansen. And at a play about the need for human connection, it’s so apropos.
The person I connected with most, though, was my sweet boy, who left the theatre after the standing ovation exclaiming, “That was so touching! There were so many lessons…” When I asked what specifically he said, “That you should always be yourself. Because if you think you are happy when you’re not being yourself, then are you really happy?”
Yep, I’m definitely glad I chose Owen as my date.
Dear Evan Hansen is playing at Arena Stage through August 23. Running time is about 2.5 hours, including a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $55-70, and for families with kids/teens interested in a theatre outing, Arena offers pay-your-age tickets (for patrons 30 and under) and the Family Fun Pack (four seats for $125). More details about both programs are available here.
A few warnings before you go:
1) As mentioned, the subject matter is heavy (this New York Times review has plot details.) It’s probably best for middle school-aged kids and older, but as noted, Owen (9.5) did okay with it, though there is adult language and adult references that garnered several amused, wide-eyed looks from him. There were a few other kids at our performance, including one who was definitely younger (and who came up to Owen in the lobby and told him how nice it was to see another kid at the theatre — so cute). Parents are the best judges of what’s appropriate for their children.
2) There is a good chance you will cry. Bring tissues.
3) Be prepared for the lyrics, “Tap tap tapping on the glass…” to play on repeat in your head.