The “Dear Evan Hansen” film adaptation, to be released in theaters Sept. 24, proves that some musicals can shine both on and off stage. The six-time Tony Award winning coming-of-age musical originally captivated audiences at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. in July 2015, before transitioning to Broadway at the Music Box Theatre December 2016.
Like the musical, the film adaptation follows Evan Hansen (Ben Platt), a socially anxious high school student who writes letters to himself as an exercise assigned by his therapist. On the first day of school, fellow classmate but relative stranger Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) steals one of these personal letters. Connor, like Evan, is a lonely social outcast struggling with mental health issues. Anxious about Connor sharing the note with others, Evan scours the internet looking for him, but soon finds out that Connor took his own life. Connor’s parents, Larry (Danny Pino) and Cynthia (Amy Adams) ask to meet with Evan after finding his note among their son’s belongings. Because the letter begins with “Dear Evan Hansen,” Connor’s parents are under the impression that Connor wrote the letter to Evan. Evan, unsure of how to explain the letter, creates a fake story exaggerating their friendship that leads to a world of lies and emotional turmoil.
Platt originated the role of Evan Hansen six years ago on Broadway, which is evident in his performance throughout the film. His portrayal of Evan through his mannerisms, speech patterns and general body language is so effortless that it is hard to imagine anyone else playing the titular role. Platt masterfully instills in the viewer empathy for Evan’s personal struggles, even as Evan continues to lie and make frustrating mistakes. Starring in a role 10 years his junior, Platt still manages to seamlessly blend into the high school setting.
In regard to the music of the film, the actors pre-recorded their songs and sang them live during filming, according to a “Dear Evan Hansen” press release from NBC Universal. The musical talent among all of the actors shined through during these performances, even those who, unlike Platt, are not Broadway-trained performers. The Murphy family’s principal song, “Requiem,” demonstrated not only exceptional emotion that lets viewers into the family’s grief, but also the beautiful musical talents of actors who are not typically known for their singing skillsets.
While the film is a fairly faithful adaptation of the stage production, there are a few minor additions that are certain to be appreciated by old and new audiences alike.
For instance, the film expanded on the character of Alana Beck (Amandla Stenberg), an overachieving teen who represses her mental health struggles for the sake of academic success. Alana’s high-functioning depression provides a contrast to Evan and adds nuance to the film’s portrayal of mental health. Characters like Alana — incredibly intelligent and capable yet plagued with feelings of loneliness and inadequacy — feel rare on the silver screen.
Unlike the stage musical, the film takes the time to demonstrate the aftermath of Evan’s lie about his friendship with Connor. In the stage production, the show ends with Evan admitting to his lie and then abruptly transitions to Evan reuniting with Zoe a year later. In the film, however, viewers can see a more coherent and believable portrayal of Evan’s remorse when he admits to his community that he had been lying the whole time. Through this brilliant addition, audience members can clearly see Evan’s rise and fall from grace, which only adds to viewer sympathy as well as closure surrounding the frustrating mistakes he makes throughout the film.
While audience members can enjoy “Dear Evan Hansen” for its laudable score and acting, they are also introducedto a refreshing depiction of mental health and suicide among adolescents that encourages more conversations around these often taboo subjects.