By: Bijou Kruszka
‘Dear Evan Hansen’ is a musical that premiered on Broadway in 2016, and has been extremely well-received. The show won 6 Tony awards, including best musical. A movie adaptation was announced late last year and will be released in September.
With the movie awaiting release, and Broadway closer to reopening, I wanted to shed some light on the issues within the story of the hit musical.
A short plot review is necessary for context, so here it is:
Evan Hansen is a socially awkward high-schooler who has no friends, a broken arm from falling out of a tree, and deals with social anxiety. His therapist recommends writing letters to himself, as a way to motivate Evan.
One day at school, he meets Connor Murphy, another teen who struggles with mental illnesses as well as drug addiction, who signs his cast. When Connor accidentally reads one of Evan’s letters, which had a few lines about Evan having a crush on his sister, Connor storms out with Evan’s letter in hand.
The next day, Evan learns that Connor has killed himself, and the Murphys believe that Evan’s letter, found on Connor, is, in fact, Connor’s suicide note. Now, here’s where the plot gets sticky. Instead of coming clean, Evan pretends that he and Connor were best friends. He tells the Murphys a whole narrative of their friendship.
Evan then enlists the help of Jared Kleinman to fake emails between the two. Evan also starts an organization, the Connor Project, dedicated to keeping Connor’s memory alive. This sounds nice on paper, but to do it, he has Alana Beck take charge, who’s only interested in it for publicity and her college application.
Later, Evan develops a romance with Zoe, built on more lies about Connor.
In the end, he tells the truth about Connor. The finale is Evan, a year later, living a good life, when he sees Zoe again.
So, what exactly is wrong?
Quite a few things. Let’s start with the titular character, Evan Hansen himself. He has so many opportunities throughout the show to tell the Murphys the truth. Instead, he continues to build more and more of a false narrative of his “friendship” with Connor. Evan feels more like a part of a family with the Murphys than with his single mom, so he continues to manipulate them. It happens to the point where Connor’s parents offer to pay Evan’s college tuition. That is awful, considering how large of a financial decision that is, especially today.
In Act 2, the truth comes out, and Evan sings what is supposed to be an apology to the Murphys, but slowly turns into a pity party for him. The song is nearly 5 minutes long, and he barely says sorry once for his actions. Evan has manipulated this family into believing this web of lies, including lying to Zoe to create a romantic relationship, and can’t even bring himself to properly apologize. He then leaves, and the Murphys don’t see him again for a year! He goes on living his life as if he hasn’t just destroyed a family emotionally. It’s infuriating.
Then, there’s Connor Murphy. To start, both Evan and Connor struggle with mental illnesses. Where Evan’s is used as a redeeming quality, Connor’s is used to villainize him. It doesn’t make sense. The show also uses him to romanticize suicide. That’s a bold statement, I know, but hear me out.
Connor, disliked by both his family and peers when he is alive, commits suicide. Then, when he dies, Evan steps in. Evan lies about Connor to Zoe, and she starts to believe that Connor did actually like her. Evan starts The Connor Project, convincing his peers and people online that Connor was a good person. Connor was actually a very aggressive person and was very unkind to those around him. The message is this: if you are disliked in life, just die and you will be remembered as a better person. What a horrible thing to tell people, especially knowing that the fanbase is made up of mostly teenagers!
In the end, the music of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ is beautiful, but the story and characters have lots of issues.