I knew the musical Dear Evan Hansen was based around the suicide of a teenager and despite having that experience in my life, I didn’t give much thought to how it would make me feel. My brother’s suicide was deep in my past, 32 years ago, a whole lifetime away or so it seemed from where I was. Yet it was a fresh wound on Saturday evening as I sat in the darkened theater on West 45th Street catching tears in a well-used tissue.
Before I go further, I must let you know I absolutely adored the show. The cast, the music, the writing. Phenomenal. I will definitely see it again when it tours in my community and I’ve already downloaded the music on my phone. It’s kind of folksy and very Broadway at the same time. Live theater opens something in my heart and I know I would not want to live without it.
So the basic plot is Evan Hansen, an angsty, nerdy, uncomfortable teen is getting help from a psychiatrist to see life in a more positive manner. He is tasked with writing himself daily pep talks in the form of letters to himself. His slightly overbearing but often absent single mom just wants him to be ok. She prints out college essay applications (seemingly hundreds of them) and keeps reminding him to write his daily letters to himself (suggesting the first couple of sentences as she’s on her way out the door for a double shift).
We see Evan struggling to eke out a few positive words but they end up going the other way. Today is not great. This week is not great. Life isn’t going to get better. He has a secret crush and pours out his heart. He prints it out but it is intercepted by a classmate, the drug-addled brother of his secret crush, Connor, the boy who ends up taking his life. Connor’s parents find the printed note in their dead son’s pocket and it reads Dear Evan Hansen… and they wrongly assume it was Connor’s suicide note written to his “friend” Evan. They want to get to know Evan, who as far as they know, was Connor’s only friend. In reality, the two boys barely knew each other but Evan gets caught up in the ruse.
I felt caught between the storyline of the despondent boy who took his life (my brother) and the mixed up boy who a mom is trying to encourage to see better days (my son is much younger but I could definitely identify with that mom). I felt the pain of Connor’s sister who couldn’t make sense of her brother’s death. I felt the ache of a mom who wants her boy to look at the positives of life. We always want the best for our kids and often feel the pain they experience as they grow into adults and beyond.
Despite the tough topics of suicide and depression among teenagers, I found it uplifting because they did it with humor, heart and hope. I don’t want to give too much more away in case you want to see it or read the book. It’s something I’d recommend to parents and teens alike. If only we could send a message to suffering teens (and anyone who has lost hope) that tomorrow can be a new day. I particularly love the song and lyrics of You Will be Found (see the YouTube link above).