Discovering Dear Evan Hansen – Part 2

My journey with Dear Evan Hansen

As I explained in Part 1 of this series, the first time I started listening to the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack, I didn’t know much about the musical. I just happened to hear one of the musical’s songs on Youtube and that was the start of this journey…

The music

My first interaction with this musical was through an animatic on Youtube done by Linktoo based on the song; “If I could tell her”. I thought the song was sweet as it told a story of a girl’s dead brother and how he supposedly noticed all these characteristics of her.

However, as the song continued I realise that the male singer (Evan) comforting the girl (Zoe) was actually not talking about her brother’s feelings, but his own. My heart ached as I understood Evan’s pain and then the ending of the song made me – curious.

It was so random and I didn’t understand the context of the story, but nonetheless, I kept listing to this heartfelt song. Until another animatic was recommended to me by YouTube.

This time it was an animatic done by Scribs based on the song; “Sincerely me”. Now if I thought the previous song was intriguing, I was in a huge surprise with this one.

Since one of the characters (Evan) in this animatic was also wearing a cast with the name “Connor” written on it, I figured that both these songs had to form part of the same story. I understood that Evan was writing letters addressed to this boy called Connor, pretending that they were friends.

But why though? That bit I didn’t understand at all.

It was only later that I discovered that these two songs formed part of a musical called, Dear Evan Hansen, and that there were many other songs I had yet to listen to.

The book

Living in South Africa limited my access to the musical, but I manage to follow the story best I could via the songs and other animatics.

The music and dialogue woven into the songs were done so beautifully. It allowed me to grasp the heart of the musical and understand the basis of the story. There were, however, still questions that were left unanswered.

I managed to figure out that one character, Evan, struggled to connect with people and that he had social anxiety. I also realised that a character called Connor died, but I didn’t understand how or why. I was also curious to know why Evan was pretending that he knew Connor when it sounded like he actually didn’t.

I wasn’t able to find closure with the story due to the musical being unavailable to me.

Luckily in 2018 clarity was brought to me when the musical was transformed into a Novel. Steven Levenson sought out Val Emmich to write a novel based on the musical; Dear Evan Hansen.

Book cover of the Novel

Emmich’s writing gave more context to Connor and his back story. This is the thing I love most about the novel! In the songs, you never really get a chance to spend time with Connor or get to know him. The versions you do get to know is really an invention of Evan’s imagination or the perception of his family.

I finally had the opportunity to learn more about Connor. To hear his thoughts and feelings about the different relationships he had with the people around him. There is even an extra character placed into the novel. Someone who played an important role in Connor’s life, but who no one knows about. Writing the novel in this way made Connor more of a person, which made his death even sadder to me.

Interview with the creators of the Musical: Dear Evan Hansen and the process of turning it into a Novel.

Apart from Connor’s suicide (something I found out by reading the novel) I felt melancholy and mourned a reality that could never be. In the novel, there is a scene – a moment – that Evan and Connor share where you could almost see them being friends. However, because of a misunderstanding, this possibility is short-lived.

What made the moment they shared even sadder is when Evan fabricates the memory of a special day he and Connor had at the apple orchard – equivalent to the song “For Forever” in the musical.

Reading this scene and relisting to the song Evan sings – I wanted so badly for them to have been friends. Emmich’s novel, made me listen to the song differently. It transformed the story and made me wish they didn’t have the misunderstanding or that Connor didn’t take his own life.

Listening to just the music didn’t allow me to understand Evan and what he was feeling. I couldn’t understand why he would or how he could end up in the situation he was in. Reading the book and tying all the loose ends together – helped me feel sympathy for a character like Evan. Someone who told a terrible lie.

I felt sympathy for him because now I knew he didn’t tell the lie out of any malice, but to comfort others and in the end to escape his own reality. He felt so alone and disconnected that he even might have started believing his own made-up story.

He wanted to believe it because then he didn’t have to deal with the truth behind the real reason he broke his arm. Another shocker that I managed to learn about through reading the novel.

I am so thankful for the beautiful way Val Emmich wrote the novel and that his words brought me the necessary clarity and closure I needed.

The Screenplay

It is now 2021 and I still haven’t watched the musical. Even though, I listened to all the songs by now – I still wasn’t sure how close the novel was to the real deal. So, I finally decided to read the screenplay I found at the Cape Town International Airport.

How I found the screenplay

In 2019 I found a copy of the screenplay at a Flybrary near the international arrival gates at the Cape Town International Airport. Between numerous other books of this library, where you can exchange books for free, someone left me the most precious gift of all.

A copy of the original screenplay of Dear Evan Hansen in book form!

Book Cover of the original screenplay in book form

Finally, I had the opportunity to experience the Musical as it was written. Even though I could still not visually experience the musical, I now had the opportunity to see how the songs fit into the story. Songs I was by this time so well acquainted with.

When I got to the parts where the songs would take place, I could hear the soundtrack playing in my mind. It was also amazing to see how well the songs and dialogue merged with each other.

I knew, by listening to the soundtrack that some songs had dialogue in them, but reading the screenplay – it is incredible how the songs are sewn into the spoken words. It is definitely a new way I’ve experience musicals.

About Steven Levenson, the screenplay writer of Dear Evan Hansen.

Comparing the Screenplay to the Novel

In regards to how similar or different the screenplay was to the novel, I was delighted to find that the two are extremely similar. Val Emmich did such a fantastic job in creating the novel. He took nothing away from the original story, but only enriched Evan and Connor’s backstories by adding context.

For example, by reading the screenplay I realised that Emmich was the one who created the character called Miguel, since this character didn’t feature within the screenplay.

In the novel, it was suggested that Miguel was Connor’s boyfriend. I love this, because it makes Evan’s lie quite ironic as there was someone who was close to Connor. However, unlike Evan, he wasn’t able to come forward and keep Connor’s memory alive.

Emmich even wrote this beautiful small scene between Evan and Miguel at the end of the novel. Miguel comes up to Evan in this scene and talks to him about Connor and the last day Connor was alive.

Creating this character and writing this scene adds so much to Connor’s character that helps us to learn a little bit more about who he really was.

Interview with Val Emmich and Steven Levenson on the Novel: Dear Evan Hansen

Apart from the made-up version of Connor in Evan’s imagination. Emmich also kept Connor in the story as a ghost-like character. Ghost Connor hanged around in the background ever observing and commenting on other character’s behaviours. As he was a ghost, he is only visible to the readers. There are two scenes where the use of this character was very profound to me.

One; when Evan makes the speech on Connor’s memorial, Connor kept waiting for someone (Miguel) to show up and speak on his behalf. Sadly, he never showed up. It was only later in the novel where we, the readers, meet Miguel.

Two; after Evan told the Murphy’s the truth about the letter Connor wrote, there was a moment where Evan ran out of the house and just sat in the road. This scene I would imagine would fit in where Evan sings “Words Fail” in the musical. Without the music to convey Evan’s emotional state and brokenness, Emmich created this turning point scene where Evan almost allowed a car to drive over him.

Emmich gave this scene more emphasis by making Connor’s ghost realise that suicide isn’t the answer. It didn’t solve his problems or fix his family dynamic. It only left them broken – having to pick up the pieces and trying to patch up the cracks that would never truly heal. Realising this, Connor tries to save Evan’s life by getting him out of the road.

Continued growth of the Musical

Even though I haven’t watched the musical – yet – at least now I have read both the novel and the screenplay. I also like to think my journey with Dear Evan Hansen allowed me to really get to know the music and the deeper meaning this musical is telling the world;

We are never as alone as we might think or feel and a true connection can be found. You only need to be brave enough to start an honest conversation.

Film that is coming out

Furthermore, it is amazing how an idea like Dear Evan Hansen began and grew. How people had access to the musical, the music, the screenplay and the novel. It is even more amazing how it is still growing and how it is been made into a film due to be released in September 2021!

I hope that Pasek, Paul and Levenson’s story will enrich other people’s lives as it becomes more and more accessible. I am also very excited to see what other kinds of art forms can emerge from this musical.

Official Trailer for the movie adaption of the musical: Dear Evan Hansen.

Irene

Art, in all its forms, has the power to make the viewer see the world with new eyes. It tells stories, creates awareness and changes our perspectives. This blog is dedicated to appreciating art and artists. Focusing on how they bring colour into our ordinary lives.

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