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Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen Spotlights Mental Illness

May 30, 2018

Review of Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen; book by Steven Levenson; music and lyrics by Benjamin Pasek and Justin Paul.

Since its debut in 2016, the Tony Award-winning stage musical Dear Evan Hansen (DEH) has been a hit, bringing to Broadway a show that deals movingly with many issues surrounding mental illness.

DEH centers on events occurring after the suicide of a high schooler, whose friend Evan Hansen finds himself creating a fictional backstory about their friendship—a story that, through social media, draws together families, classmates, and the public.

DEH gives us a show about mental illness that is very different from most other popular-culture offerings on the subject. It weaves together light and dark, comedy and tragedy, with beautiful songs and fascinating roles in an exploration of deep pain, anxiety, depression, heartbreak, and myth-making, and the way these work themselves in at all levels of life. We get affecting realistic takes on peoples’ differences in perception and in coping with loss. For instance, the suicide’s sister, who knew him as a mean-spirited bully, sings (in “Requiem”) about how she cannot share in the sad feelings of others reacting to the death of her abuser.

Through several cast changes, DEH has enjoyed great success, both in popularity and in critical acclaim: it has tallied many prizes, including six Tony Awards, among them Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Featured Actress and Actor in a Musical. In the fall, DEH begins its first national tour; and it’s currently running six days a week on Broadway.

Do you plan to see it? What other shows, films, and series explore these same issues credibly? Please comment!

Written by Sawyer Benjamin, from Virginia, who attends Walden University

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