A personal note on Dear Evan Hansen

102147-1As many of you know by now, I am a huge theater fan and have been since I was ten years old. I love it. I love the drama, the staging, the music, the lights, everything. I even took the plunge six years ago and got involved in theater myself, finally plucking up the courage to audition for a local community theater production of Into the Woods and getting in the show. Since then, I’ve been in ten shows (I think, I keep miscounting them) and have seen dozens of others, whether they be a full production on Broadway or a smaller, more intimate local show.

I don’t think there has ever been a show that has touched me as much as Dear Evan Hansen.

I first heard about the show watching the Tony Awards, seeing Ben Platt sing “Waving Through a Window.” I fell in love with that song and immediately got the soundtrack. I connected with many of the characters the more I discovered. I have dealt with depression and anxiety my entire life, which made me have major issues my senior year of high school, so I connected with Evan’s insecurities on wishing he could just be normal and fit in. I also, perhaps even more so, connected with Evan’s mom, Heidi. She has a song that she sings towards the end of the show called “So Big/So Small” where she talks about her experience as a single mom, watching the father of her child walk away, and constantly feeling like she was never able to do enough for Evan. I have a very difficult time listening to this song without at least getting a bit misty eyed because I know those feelings so well too. My daughter’s dad left us and, while he didn’t completely abandon her, he did live several states away for the last seven years, and I did always feel like I was never doing enough for my kid.

And I knew there would be moments that I’d miss.

And I knew there would be space I couldn’t fill.

And I knew I’d come up short a million different ways . . . and I did.

And I do.

And I will.

Fun story: I got the chance to see Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway last October when my husband and I went up to New York for our anniversary. He knew nothing about the story or the music, only knowing that I really wanted to see it. During intermission, I turned to him, still feeling emotional after “You Will Be Found,” and asked him if he was enjoying it. He said that he was enjoying it a lot more than he expected and then described the show in the best way possible.

“It’s like John Green: The Musical.”

I have recently introduced him to YA literature and he has read several John Green novels and liked them. So this was a good sign to me, who worried that my husband, who thinks musicals should all be fluffy, happy comedies, might really dislike a show dealing with teen depression and suicide. That said, for a show that deals with such serious topics, there is also quite a bit of humor in it, including some laugh out loud moments. And because being a teenager in today’s modern world is like riding a roller coaster, the very high ups and the very deep downs actually works really well.

As soon as I saw the show on Broadway, I wanted to share it with my mom and my daughter. I looked up show dates for the US Tour and originally thought we could see it somewhere fairly close, like Durham or Charlotte. Sadly, due to sharing a season with the juggernaut that is Hamilton, tickets for the entire season of shows were limited. I did find availability in Greenville, South Carolina, which is only three hours away, so I scooped up five tickets and planned to take my whole family to see it, including my stepson who isn’t really into theater, but has heard of the show because he takes dance at school instead of P.E. and one of the routines he did at his last dance concert was to “Words Fail.”

This show hit me so hard the second time around. Here’s why.

I was sitting next to my daughter, who is fourteen years old and who did not want to come to this show. At all. She knew a little bit about it, mostly from me talking endlessly about how much I liked it, and by hearing a couple of songs while we were in the car. Of all the people in my family, it was my daughter who I really wanted to see this. See, she has major issues with depression and anxiety, as well as a tendency to lie (or at least reeeeeeeally stretch the truth). The main plot point of the show is that Evan ends up telling a really big lie to try and cover up his insecurities. Evan is instructed by his therapist to write letters to himself to try and work out some of his issues, but one of his letters is found by the school troublemaker, Connor Murphy. Connor is an outcast who is known to do drugs and lashes out at everyone. He steals one of Evan’s letters, noticing that it mentions his sister Zoe, who Evan has a crush on. Later, that letter is mistaken for Connor’s suicide note.

Evan doesn’t want to admit to Connor’s grieving parents that he was writing letters to himself, so he goes along with what they believe, that Connor wrote his suicide note to Evan because they were secretly friends. This lie gets bigger and bigger as the story spreads and as Evan’s speech given at Connor’s memorial service is posted online and goes viral. At this point, the Murphys have brought Evan into their home, showing Evan what he never had at his own house: a picture perfect family. They find comfort in this version of Connor that Evan has, of them being friends and Connor being happy. Evan finds happiness not only in spending time in their home, but developing a relationship with Zoe. Remember though, it’s all based on a lie. And it does all fall apart eventually.

I never had the dad who stuck it out

No corny jokes or baseball gloves

No mom who just was there

‘Cause mom was all that she had to be

The Murphys appear like a perfect nuclear family from the outside, but they have their fair share of issues as well. This all does lead to Evan understanding his mother, Heidi, a lot more. She loves him so much, which is why she is working so hard to support them and going back to school to try and improve their lives. Nothing is perfect. Life is messy sometimes. But that’s okay.

So back to my daughter, who started crying around the song “Disappear.” She has always had issues with her identity and where she fits in, not just at school, but in our family and just in the world in general. She also had an experience last year where a girl at her school committed suicide. They were friends, although not super close, and my daughter has had a very hard time dealing with it, especially since the school didn’t do much to honor her friend.

No one deserves to be forgotten.

No one deserves to fade away.

No one should come and go,

And let no one know he was ever even here.

No one deserves to disappear.

This failing to honor her friend at her school made the whole scenario in “You Will Be Found” all the more poignant. It was not just about Connor. It was what she wished could have been done for her friend. Let’s just say we needed to find a lot of tissues at intermission.

I knew that this would bring up a lot of difficult feelings for her, but that was also why I felt it was important for her to see it. One of the issues that people with depression and anxiety have is the feeling of being completely alone, that no one would ever understand what we are feeling. Another main theme in this show is that we aren’t alone, that we are all interconnected, now more than ever. It shows both the good and the ugly side of social media, how it can make you feel uplifted (like all the people supporting The Connor Project) or how it can try to crush you (like the backlash the Murphys got after Connor’s suicide note was posted, addressed to Evan and not them).

There was also a time last school year where my daughter kept telling me to just give up on her. That she was a bad kid and it wasn’t going to change, so I should stop trying to make everything better and just quit. During “So Big/So Small,” she reached over and grabbed my hand. No matter how many times I told her that I could not and would not ever give up, sometimes you just need the medium of song to really impart what you need to say.

Your mom isn’t going anywhere,

Your mom is staying right here,

No matter what.

This post has been a bit of a ramble, but I did want to say that this touring production is phenomenal. I actually thought that it was as good or better than what we saw on Broadway. If you have a chance to go see it, please try to. This is a show that everyone should see, that everyone takes something different away from. My mom, who also loved it, saw it in a completely different way, as did my husband and stepson. The music is incredible and will bring all the feels, so don’t forget your tissues like we did.

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today is going to be a good day, and here’s why. Because today at least, you’re you. And that’s enough.

Movies I've Seen

Everything today is thoroughly modern . . .

This weekend, I was bopping around YouTube (as I often do) in search of clips from my favorite musicals. I came across a user who had the entire movie version of a show that I haven’t seen in years – Thoroughly Modern Millie. The movie version stars Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Channing (just to name a few) and it is just so adorable! I challenge anyone to watch it and not grin the whole time.

The story follows Millie, a young woman in the 1920’s. She has come to New York to become a modern woman. Her ultimate goal? To find a job working for a good looking, single boss and marry him. I guess that was modern thinking for women back then. Along the way, she meets Jimmy, a young man who she almost immediately falls for, Miss Dorothy, a young lady fresh off the train who is even more naive than Millie is, and Muzzy, a wealthy woman who lives her life to the fullest.

These characters are wrapped around a slight mystery about girls from the hotel where Millie lives disappearing suddenly with no word. The show is very politically INcorrect (sorry to any Chinese-Americans who watch it – they’re the very stereotypical bad guys in this), but the goofiness of the rest of the show is worth it. It’s a whole lot of fun.

A few years ago, there was a revival of the show on Broadway. Here’s a video of their performance on the Tony Awards, featuring Sutton Foster (who I adore) in the title role. Enjoy!

Books I've Read · Trips I've Taken

I’m a travelling girl . . .

I absolutely love airports. There’s just something about the idea of being able to hop on a plane and go . . . anywhere! And you always see interesting people there, visiting from all over the world. I always thought it would be an interesting place to work, although probably stressful at times.

This weekend I went back up to New York. I got to see Seminar again, which was wonderful. I even did the stage door thing and got my Playbill signed by the entire cast. I’m such a sucker for this sort of thing.

Signatures - top: Alan Rickman, Lily Rabe and Jerry O'Connell; bottom: Hettienne Park and Hamish Linklater


Heading back home today. I tried to get some writing done this weekend, but there wasn’t that much time. Plus, my packing space was limited, so most of my typing was done on my Kindle. Effective, but not very efficient. Although I’m getting faster. I did, however, manage to finish another book, Domes of Fire by David Eddings. It’s the first book in the Tamuli trilogy, which is a continuation of the Elenium trilogy, which I finished earlier in the year. A very good book. I’ll get around to re-reading the other two books at some point.

I still have about 20 minutes before my flight boards, so I guess I’ll kick back and relax for a bit.

Trips I've Taken

New York, New York!

My favorite city in the world!

My husband and I took a long weekend to visit the city. We do this at least once a year, sometimes several. I think last year I went three times: once with him, once with my daughter and my mom, and once alone. One day, I tell myself, I will live there – just not any time soon. My husband and I could easily consolidate everything and move into a studio apartment if it was just the two of us, but that’s just not feasible for a family of four. Once those kids are off to college, though, moving to New York is fair game.

I’ll just have to plan more trips in the meantime. Oh darn.

Here are some of the highlights of the trip. We visited the 9/11 memorial and I have to say that it is beautiful. No matter how many times I’ve seen coverage of the falling of the World Trade Center, nothing can replace actually standing there and seeing just how massive these buildings were.  I am so glad that they decided to not build anything over the site. The waterfall monuments are stunning – simple and beautiful.  As I walked around them, running my hands over the names immortalized in stone, it was hard not to get emotional. I can’t wait to see it again when the trees are all in bloom and the museum is open.

You could see rainbows in the falling water at times, but none would show up through the camera.

We saw two shows while we were there. My husband’s choice was Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. He loved the movie and wanted to see how they decided to interpret it onstage. It was a lot of fun – lots of singing and dancing and, oh heavens, the costumes! They won the Tony Award for Costume Design, and it’s easy to see why. It was a party from the get-go. My choice of show was the play Seminar by Theresa Rebeck. I wanted to see it for two reasons. Reason #1 – the play is about four young writers attending a writer’s workshop under a very . . . let’s say interesting mentor. Seriously, how many plays are there about writers writing??? That alone made me very curious. Reason #2 – the mentor in question was played by Alan Rickman, who is one of my all-time favorite actors. I’ve seen him in several movies, but never saw any of his stage work before. He was hilarious! The entire cast was great and the play was absolutely brilliant.

The Palace Theater in Times Square

Getting back to reality this week has been a bit of a struggle, but in many ways it has been good. The trip to New York almost extended the holiday season for me, since last week I only worked three days, so now everything will be officially back to normal. Until I plan my next trip that is . . .