Dear Evan Hansen is an original musical written by the composer-lyricist team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, with the book by Steven Levenson. It opened on Broadway on December 4, 2016, after its world premiere in 2015, and an Off-Broadway production from March to May 2016.
The musical focuses on teenager Evan Hansen, who suffers from a social anxiety disorder. After the suicide of fellow student Connor Murphy, a series of events land Evan in the center of a false narrative - that he was Connor's secret best friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into a web of lies, he gains everything he's ever wanted and becomes a beacon of hope for Connor's grieving family, but as everything starts to fall apart, he has to learn that even the best of intentions can turn into something harmful.
The musical has received widespread critical acclaim, for its music, story, and performances of its original cast, headlined by Ben Platt as Evan Hansen.
Dear Evan Hansen contains examples of:
- Adult Fear: Your child committing suicide or to a lesser extent, not being able to provide for them.
- Alliterative Name: Heidi Hansen.
- Ambiguous Disorder:
- While it's never referred to by name, Evan shows a lot of the signs and symptoms of social anxiety disorder. Or, depending on the actor playing him, he can also be portrayed as being on the autism spectrum.
- Connor is also implied to have some sort of mental illness, as he is emotionally volatile, paranoid about what others think of him, and apparently had a history of suicidal ideation. It has been suggested that he may have borderline personality disorder or bipolar.
- Apologizes a Lot: One of Evan's signature traits, as noted by Zoe. Zoe herself ends up doing this in a similar fashion during "If I Could Tell Her."
- Arc Words:
- "I'm flying blind, and I'm making this up as I go." Set as the chorus of the opening number, not only making the audience sympathetic to the mothers, but sets up Evan's situation. He keeps making things up as he goes, until a point where he gets cornered and has to confess to everything.
- "If you're falling in a forest, and there's nobody around, do you ever really crash or even make a sound?" It refers to Evan's failed suicide by jumping off a tree.
- Armor-Piercing Response: After Heidi finds out about Evan's occasional visits to the Murphys instead of Jared's, Evan yells to Heidi that he thinks he's nothing more than a burden to her life. She ends up going ballistic, remarking back that he is the only and one good thing in her life, and sarcastically apologizes for not doing her best for him. Evan then venomously remarks that it's not his fault that other people can. This leads into "Good for You", as Heidi ends up being in bitter acceptance of Evan choosing the Murphy family over her.
- Believing Their Own Lies: Evan buys into his own lies for a bit before it bites him back.
- Big Brother Bully: Zoe sees Connor as one because he would verbally lash out at her and their parents.
- Big Brother Instinct: Connor goes ballistic after he thinks Evan is using his sister.
- Bittersweet Ending: Evan admits his lie to the Murphys, even though the truth crushes them and destroys his relationship with the family. But, he ends up reconciling with Heidi, and after a one-year Distant Finale, Zoe. Even though Evan's relationship with Zoe ends up being relegated to a status of Amicable Exes, his final letter reveals he has changed over the course of the play, and has embraced himself as a socially awkward, yet resolute man.
- The first and last lines begin with the play's name itself, as Evan writes a letter to himself, in the hopes of making himself better. In his first letter, he writes that it will be an amazing day, because he'll be himself, before descending into a tangent regarding his social anxiety. At the end, his letter assures him that his day will be good, as he has finally learned, and accepted, being himself.
- Evan's first and last discussion with Connor, whether it's the real person or an imaginary version, contains the tree accident that caused Evan to have a broken arm. Only, for Imaginary!Connor, he gets Evan to admit that he tried to kill himself by letting go rather than accidentally fall off.
- Bungled Suicide: The truth about how Evan broke his arm.
- BSoD Song: "Words Fail", where Evan reveals his lie to the Murphys.
- Color Motif: Evan frequently wears blue. It's also prominently featured on the shows posters and playbills.
- Dark Reprise:
- A part of "Waving Through a Window" is sung again in "Words Fail". It's also notable for being a sadder reprise of a song that wasn't exactly happy to begin with.
- Played straight with "You Will Be Found". The song initially conveys the message that if one is lost, they can be helped upon by others. The next time it's sang, it represents the abuse that the Murphys have received from social media, as they believe the Murphys didn't care about their son enough.
- Did Not Get the Girl: Evan and Zoe split after it comes out that Evan was lying about basically everything. But they're on good terms by the story's end, and she forgives him for the whole ordeal.
- Disappeared Dad: Evan's dad. "So Big/So Small" details the day he left.
- Driven to Suicide: Connor Murphy suicide early in Act One kicks off the plot. Evan tries to before the events of the show, which is how he broke his arm.
- The Eleven O'Clock Number: "Words Fail".
- Establishing Character Moment:
- Evan: The first lines of the play is his letter to himself, where he types that today will be an amazing day because he is being himself. But as soon as he finishes typing that, he ends up rambling on all the minor details to being recognized, as well as recounting a failed encounter with someone he loves. He is socially awkward and wants to connect with other people.
- Heidi: She tries to give Evan the enthusiasm to start his school year happily, but all Evan can elicit is Flat Joy. Her song that occurs afterwards, "Anybody Have a Map?", highlights the amount of effort she puts into connecting with Evan, and her desperation when her actions fail.
- Connor: At his breakfast, he claims that he doesn't feel like going to school, and is revealed to have smoked drugs. His interactions with the rest of his family show that he has a severely strained relationship with them.
- Cynthia: In her part in the song "Anybody Have a Map?", she sings about how her lifestyle, like cooking for Larry, Connor and Zoe, is increasingly difficult, and always complicated.
- Larry: When Cynthia asks Larry to convince Connor to go to school, he only tells Connor to do so, in a nonchalant manner. Cynthia then chides him on his lack of effort to persuade Connor, believing that he is busy on his email. He then responds that Connor cannot listen to him. Two things are established; he is emotionally distant from his family, and he is more dedicated to his work.
- Zoe: She ends up swearing back at Connor, when Connor swore at her because she assumed he was definitely high. Not only is she a typical high school student, it's clear she despises her brother, and his attitude.
- Alana: She meets Evan and asks him how his summer was. Before Evan can reply, she interrupts with her having done so many extracurricular activities. The script directions state that before she encounters Evan, she puts on a fake smile. Not only is she wanting to help her community in any way possible, she is also shy like Evan, but conceals that with cheeriness.
- Jared: His first line is a joke to Evan regarding his broken arm, believing it to be Evan having A Date with Rosie Palms. Just like Alana, the script reveals another crucial detail: he enters with a "practiced swagger" that "only the deeply insecure" can use. He is not only a Deadpan Snarker and a complete joker, but he is someone who attempts to solve every problem with humor.
- Foreshadowing: Instances referring to Evan's Bungled Suicide by climbing up a tree and throwing himself off:
- The Arc Words "When you're falling in a forest and there's nobody around, do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?" really sticks out once the truth behind Evan's cast is revealed.
- When Connor asks Evan about the latter's cast, with Evan responding that he fell off a tree, Connor laughs, remarking that it's the "saddest fucking thing" he's ever heard. He was Right for the Wrong Reasons: the suicide attempt itself was sad, not the fake accident, even though Connor didn't know at that time.
- The Four Chords of Pop: The chorus of "Waving Through A Window."
- Friendless Background: Connor and Evan but in different ways. Connor is a Loner. Evan is really shy and lacks self-confidence.
- Friendship Song: "Sincerely, Me" between Evan and Connor. Subverted, in that it's actually just Evan and Jared faking e-mail exchanges to keep up the lie that Evan and Connor were friends.
- Genre Savvy: Alana. After spending most of the play exaggerating how close she and Connor were, she (rightly) starts to suspect Evan of making up the whole story of their friendship. She still falls for Evan's story when he shows her Connor's "suicide note", though.
- Grief Song:
- There are a few, most of which are atypical given the unusual circumstances of the musical. "For Forever" most closely follows the trope, but all the reminiscing in it is in Evan's imagination; he's grieving over someone he never really knew.
- Defied in "Requiem", in which Zoe refuses to grieve for Connor.♫ Why should I play the grieving girl and lie
Saying that I miss you
And that my world has gone dark without your light?
I will sing no requiem tonight. ♫
- Go-Getter Girl: Alana Beck, to the point where Evan accuses her of trying to take advantage of Connor's suicide to bolster her college applications.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: In "Sincerely, Me", Evan and imaginary Connor sing that "our friendship goes beyond your average kind of bond", though Evan quickly adds, "but not because we're gay!"
- "The Hero Sucks" Song: "Good for You": Heidi, Alana, and Jared become mad at Evan for getting closer with the Murphys and letting his lie unravel. "Sucks" is a bit strong, but you can tell how angry and hurt the three became.
- "I Am" Song: "Waving Through A Window" establishes Evan's character and his debilitating social anxiety.
- Idle Rich: Zoe sees her mother Cynthia this way jumping from fad to fad to stave off boredom.
- In the Style of...: The show's score borrows heavily from late 90s/early 2000s adult alternative music (Vanessa Carlton, Five For Fighting, Barenaked Ladies) and gives it a showtunes glean. "Sincerely, Me", meanwhile, is a stylistic sound-alike of Ben Folds Five.
- Ironic Echo:
- "Think about it". It is said twice to Evan; firstly by Cynthia to encourage Evan to give a public speech at the memorial assembly for Connor, and secondly by the imaginary Connor, who wants him to decide whether he wants to reveal his lie to the Murphys or not.
- "You Are Not Alone". Firstly, it is a rallying cry in "You Will Be Found", showcasing the important virtues of friendship and belonging. When it returns in the Dark Reprise, it shows social media users' desires for revenge against the Murphy Family, as they believe the Murphys were responsible for their son's suicide.
- Irony: Evan's main problem in Act One was his inability to communicate properly with other people. For Act Two, Evan faces a new difficulty: the inability to keep his mouth shut. To recount, he lashes out at Heidi for her not being there for him in most of his life, even though she explicitly states that she is trying very hard. He then accuses Alana for only participating in the Connor Project to boost her college opportunities, despite the previous establishing her as selfless. Finally, he threatens Jared with a Taking You with Me remark, as Jared wants to reveal the lie due to Evan only using him for making the fabricated letters, and not out of a pure friendship.
- "I Want" Song: "Waving Through A Window" establishes that Evan desperately wants to connect with other people, and feel like he matters.
- Jerkass: Connor, while not without his sympathetic qualities, is generally shown to be an unpleasant, unlikable human being.
- Karma Houdini: Other than spilling the beans to Heidi and the Murphy family, Evan largely gets away with his fake friendship with Connor. There's also no mention of whether Alana suffers any repercussions for posting Connor's "suicide note" online and being responsible for the media abuse the Murphys endure.
- Liar Revealed: "Words Fail".
- Loners Are Freaks: Played with, as both Evan and Connor are friendless and therefore deemed freakish. Connor more closely follows this trope, as Jared accuses him of looking like a school shooter and even calls him a freak when Connor loses his temper.
- Lyrical Dissonance:
- "Waving Through A Window" is a fairly up-tempo song about the main character's depression.
- Zigzagged. "Sincerely, Me" is an upbeat, cheery song about the awkward, but enduring friendship between Connor and Evan. However, the audience is aware that this friendship isn't real and the exchange is entirely fabricated.
- Madness Mantra: The bridge of "Waving Through A Window", which is mostly the words "When you're falling in a forest / And there's nobody around, / Do you ever really crash / Or even make a sound?" repeated over and over as the music gets more intense. It feels like an anxiety attack.
- Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: "You Will Be Found".
- Meaningful Background Event: During "You Will be Found", as Larry and Cynthia watch the unexpected impact that Evan's speech and the Connor Project has made, Heidi can be seen observing the same thing. This leads to her concern about Evan's newly gained popularity and eventual exposure of his lies.
- Mistaken for Gay: When he talks to the Murphys, Evan throws together a story about how he and Connor were "secret friends". They told no one, made sure to never be seen together, and even communicated via secret email accounts. Jared lampshades this:Jared: His parents think you were lovers. You realize that, right?
Evan: What? Why would they think that?
Jared: Um. You were best friends but he wouldn't let you talk to him at school? And when you did, he kicked your ass? That's like the exact formula for secret gay high school lovers.
Evan: Oh my God.
- Motifs: Trees and sunlight are mentioned quite a lot.
- Nervous Wreck: Evan, as a result of a social anxiety disorder.
- No Antagonist: There is literally no bad guys in this play. Instead, it's Evan's inability to escape from his lie, and the Murphys' quick acceptance of these deceptions as comfort, combined with Heidi's repeated attempts to please Evan, create most of the problems.
- Outliving One's Offspring: Larry and Cynthia Murphy outlive their son Connor.
- Parents as People: Heidi Hansen and Larry and Cynthia Murphy. They do their best to take care of their children. As heard in "Anybody Have a Map?""The scary truth is I'm flying blind and I'm making things up as I go."
- Parental Love Song: "So Big/So Small", Heidi's big number about always being there for Evan.
- Parental Substitute: How Evan sees the Murphys. See "The Hero Sucks" Song for Heidi's reaction.
- Patter Song: "Anybody Have A Map?" and "Sincerely, Me."
- Personal Effects Reveal: We learn a little more about the real Connor through his personal belongings, such as the tie he got in middle school on the assumption that he'd attend lots of bar mitzvah parties (he was invited to none), or the baseball glove his father bought him as a gift (he never used it). Evan inherits both of these items.
- Posthumous Character: Connor Murphy. He only appears alive onstage for a few minutes, but he's present for the rest of the musical as a creation of Evan's psyche and how he (Evan) imagines him to be.
- Pull the Thread: Alana starts noticing the holes and inconsistencies in Evan's story pretty quickly after starting the Connor Project, although it takes her a while to actually suspect him of lying. She eventually accuses him of making the whole thing up, but Evan changes her mind by showing the "suicide note".
- Rule of Symbolism: In Act Two, before Evan heads to the Murphys' house and dismisses Heidi's demands for a talk with her, Evan starts to wear a grey hoodie. During "The Hero Sucks" Song "Good for You", where Evan sides with the Murphys over his friends and family, he zips up that hoodie. At that point, he is dressing just like Connor, symbolizing how he has become a new surrogate son to the Murphys.
- Shipper on Deck: Jared, for Evan and Connor.
- Small Role, Big Impact: Connor's death in the first act kick starts the plot of the show.
- Snowball Lie: Evan's lie gets bigger and bigger until it's out of his control.
- Starts with a Suicide: Connor Murphy's, to be exact.
- Stepford Smiler: Heidi starts "Anybody Have a Map?" trying to get Evan excited about his first day of school, but as the song reveals, she has no real idea what she's doing.
- The Stoner: Connor. In his very first scene he is implied to be high. This appears to be routine, as Larry scoffs "He's probably high" and Cynthia says, "We've talked about this."
- There Are No Therapists: Played with. It's stated early that Evan is seeing a therapist (Dr. Sherman) but he or she is never seen onstage.
- Title Drop: The first words of the musical are "Dear Evan Hansen".
- Verbal Backspace: Used throughout "Sincerely, Me" to illustrate Jared and Evan writing and re-writing the fake email conversations between Evan and Connor, trying to make it sound convincing (and because Jared keeps writing in gay jokes).Evan: ♫ I gotta tell you life without you has been hard. ♫
Jared: (Snarky) Hard?
Evan: ♫ ...has been bad. ♫
Evan: (Annoyed) ♫ ...has been rough. ♫''
♫ He thought, you looked really pretty...er, it looked pretty cool when you put indigo streaks in your hair. ♫
- Also in "If I Could Tell Her", as Evan is making up things that Connor wished he could tell his sister:
- We Hardly Knew Ye: Connor Murphy only appears in the show's timeline proper for a few scenes. Any other appearances are how Evan imagines him to be in their false friendship.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Heidi, Alana, Jared, and later on, the Murphys to Evan after he neglects his mom and friends and his lie falls apart.
- Wham Line:
Connor: Did you fall? Or did you let go?
- How Evan really broke his arm.
Virtual Voice: He wrote his suicide note to Evan Hansen, because he knew his family didn't give a shit.
- When Alana posts Evan's therapy letter to himself online, believing it's Connor's suicide letter, a montage of voices appear again. This leads the audience to believe it will be a happier reprise of "You Will Be Found", as the letter can help fund the apple orchard, but then, this line shifts the song into a Dark Reprise:
- You Are Not Alone: The main point Evan hopes to make with The Connor Project. It even becomes an important, frequently repeated lyric in the song "You Will Be Found". See Ironic Echo for its darker use.
- Every character in the play is struggling with loneliness and isolation in some form or another. The story explores how Evan's lie helps them each to connect with the people around them.