Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Dear Evan Hansen (Broadway)


Aside from medication, Evan Hansen (Michael Lee Brown) is advised to write letters addressed to himself to ease his bouts of anxiety. When he does, he accidentally leaves one on the school printer which is eventually found by a high Connor Murphy (Alex Boniello). What should have been the start of an odd friendship takes an unexpected turn when their unlikely conversation becomes a misunderstanding and Connor commits suicide with Evan’s letter found in his possessions. Mistaking it for a suicide note addressed to his only friend, the Murphy’s hang on to the letter believing it to be their son’s last memory. Seeing how he can be instrumental in helping with the family’s grief, Evan crafts one lie followed by another and then another until he gets entangled in an intricate web of deceit that spirals out of control, affecting all of them in ways both beneficial and detrimental.

First stop: the songs. It could be the abundance of falsettos that heighten the emotions or maybe the honesty in the lyrics that hit you hard. Either way the soundtrack serves as an extension of the play’s central theme, something that you can play over and over again just for the sincerity of its message. Perhaps that’s the reason why for a musical that is rather relatively young, Dear Evan Hansen’s songs have been enjoying a unique following since its debut. I’ve always wondered why. Now I know, and I can’t be any happier that I was able to experience those songs firsthand from such a talented cast.

The last theater piece on mental illness that I saw was Night, Mother. It wasn’t a musical but rather a straightforward account of an individual who decides that it’s time to die. Dear Evan Hansen has songs; some of them funny, most of them true. Despite the format, the music does not detract from the same topic, opening up conversations regarding anxiety, depression, and suicide accompanied by music and a dash of comedy. What you get is a play that’s enjoyable yet depressing at the same time.

What’s interesting about Dear Evan Hansen is how despite being a narrative on the quintessential moral dilemma of the end doesn’t justify the means, it still manages to make a valid point by focusing on a silent epidemic that claims lives on a daily basis. If you analyze the storyline, it’s actually quite twisted and fucked up, to be blunt about it. The conclusion does not condone the wrongs, but it is perhaps the empathy and understanding that come along that is worth all the drama.

With everything going so well in the first half, it is obvious to expect that the comeuppance will eventually be had come the second half. The musical gets there but in a way that is neither too preachy nor over dramatic. If you end up understanding where the characters are coming from and why they act the way they do, then that’s an indication that the narrative is successful in imparting its message. After all, that’s what this is all about, right? Empathy and understanding.

There were audible sobs in the theater. The teenager in front of me was wiping tears off with his shirt. Maybe it’s the songs. Maybe it’s the aircon. Maybe it’s because we’ve all been there, at one point in our lives. For many, it’s a one-time thing. For some, it’s recurring. It feels like falling off a tree. While some would hang on a branch for dear life, some will choose to just let go. Mental illness shouldn’t be taboo. If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, please reach out. Ask for help.

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