Unlike so many musicals, Dear Evan Hansen emerged from a brand-new idea. Its predecessor wasn’t a book or a movie or a play; the concept came out of composer-lyricist Benj Pasek’s own high school experience, and book writer Steven Levenson picked it up and ran with it from there. After a 2015 premier at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage and an Off-Broadway run this past spring at Second Stage, Dear Evan Hansen, which also features music and lyrics by Justin Paul, officially opened at the Music Box Theatre December 4.
The stars came out to celebrate at The Pierre Hotel in New York City and joined Playbill live on the blue carpet.
First to join the livestream was choreographer Danny Mefford (5:05). An emotional and music-driven show, Dear Evan Hansen doesn’t have high kicks or triple turns, but that doesn’t mean setting movement is easy. “It’s always been really important to me, from the beginning, that all of the characters of the show be fully themselves the entire time,” said Mefford. “So trying to find a way to make the musical staging dynamic and engaging and real and pedestrian is challenging but also really rewarding.” He also discussed why “You Will Be Found” was the most challenging number to choreograph.
Scenic designer David Korins, best known in the Broadway world for his work on Hamilton, said hello (10:15) and revealed that he had the idea for the set from the first time he read the script and how much the set has really stuck to that original vision. “I knew that we had to show the internet for all of its good things and all of its bad things in one show,” he said. “I thought about making this show a series of layers. I knew that we wanted to have screens as a part of our show because screens are such a part of the narrative.” He discusses the decision to keep the orchestra onstage and the automation in the show. (“I wanted it to feel like it was a tectonic plate of floating life swirling around.”)
Soon after, projection designer Peter Nigrini (13:05) revealed that the projections, while they are currently the same every night, very well might change in the future. “We needed to get to opening night first,” he said. He spoke how he, Korins, and lighting designer Japhy Weideman worked together, and how he even got himself a social media tutor to authentically use and portray the many social media platforms touched upon in the show and “capture the emotion of being immersed in social media.”
The first actor of the evening to stop by was Michael Park (22:17), who plays Larry Murphy, and talked about bringing his own life as a dad to three kids into his role onstage. “It’s opened my eyes a little more and made me more aware of how my kids are using social media, who they’re hanging out with, and why they’re hanging out with them,” he said. He also gave advice to parents who are thinking of coming to see Dear Evan Hansen with their children, starting with, “Let the kids direct the conversation.”
In that vein, the actor who plays his son, Mike Faist (25:30), stopped by. Faist has been with the show since the first table read and talked about day one of rehearsals. “Our first rehearsal we didn’t read it at all,” said Faist. “[Director] Michael Greif actually sent us home with the scripts and was like ‘Come back tomorrow.’” He also talked about the version of Connor that he keeps in his head and which character in the show it parallels.
Breakout star (and a frontrunner for a Tony, according to the New York Times) Ben Platt (29:00) talked about giving his emotionally raw performance eight shows a week.
“I’ve played this role for two-and-a-half years, and I’ve come to really love him. This role, him, it’s very personal to me. I feel this responsibility to present him as fairly as I can, as human, as flawed, and he just means so much to me that I’m willing to do that, to throw myself into it,” he said. Still, there are moments when Platt lets loose in the show and others that call for him to hold back. So how does he calibrate his performance? “It’s a process. I learn from audiences…as the night goes on, what they’re ready for. It’s all about revealing small bits of him as the night goes. Sometimes there are moments when I want to give more than I do, and in the name of giving it truth, in that moment, I bring a bit of levity.”
The question on everyone’s mind is: How does he manage to give that depth of emotion, intensity of performance, and raw honesty night after night? “Two answers: the crowds, the audiences are incredible and I have to remember that they’re seeing it for the first time so it’s got to be as good as last night’s,” said Platt, “and really the second is: I love musicals more than anything, so it never gets old to me, so even on my most tired night [I can go there].”
Will Roland made his Broadway debut as Jared Kleinman and brought his personality to the livestream (37:45). “The thing that is really important to me about Jared is that all of the kids are in many ways the same,” he said. “They’re all feeling very similarly and they’re dealing with it in totally disparate ways. But it’s important to me that all of Jared’s bravado be false.” He also revealed that his character had a rock solo song in an early iteration of the show, and what cast bonding has been like.
Orchestrator and maestro Alex Lacamoire discussed (49:20) talked about maintaining the intimacy of the show while getting the sound to swell in a Broadway space. “The music that Benj and Justin write, there’s something about it that I’m feeling. I feel like I know what the song is,” said Lacamoire. “Sometimes I have to really think about it, but a lot of times it’s just a feeling.” As the “outside eagle eye,” he continues to maintain the show musically after opening and beyond.
Laura Dreyfuss (55:45) looked beautiful in white and talked about singing the music of Pasek and Paul and the message she hopes to deliver through her character. I want people “seeing people for who they are, trusting your gut. I think the biggest thing is resilience,” she said. “She still finds a way to be this giving person.”
Towards the end of the festivities, Jennifer Laura Thompson (1:05:20) talked about creating Cynthia. “I relate to her in that she is 100 percent dedicated in helping her son,” she said. “[As Cynthia] there’s a hundred books on parenting, but there is no book on parenting my son, Connor Murphy. If there were, I would have read it,” says Thompson of her character’s perspective. “You have to ground yourself in the story.” She discussed the complexities of the script and her joy at being a part of the show and what it was like to work with Michael Greif.
Mom number two, Rachel Bay Jones, talked about her big number “So Big/So Small” (1:10:40) and her “messy” character. “All of us who have ever mothered a child and who have ever had that self-doubt, have wondered if we’ve done enough. … I feel the audience with me in that moment. I feel like I’m speaking for all the moms and for my mother and my grandmother and all of us.” The actor also spoke about working with Platt and the connections between their characters as mother and son.
Another actor making a Broadway debut, Kristolyn Lloyd, came to the livestream as the final cast member of the night (1:14:00). “I had to dig deep into a part of me that’s not so vulnerable … she’s not going to show a lot of hurt, she’s not going to show a lot of pain,” said Lloyd of her character.” Lloyd has been a longtime fan of Pasek and Paul, who then appeared on camera (1:15:40).
“When we were writing the songs, it was all done really closely with Steve Levenson, our book writer, and we really wanted a back and forth,” said Paul of creating a score so representative of the characters in the show and simultaneously resonant with audiences. “We would have an idea for a song and we’d be able to look at the scene and see the dialogue and say, ‘Haha, we’re stealing this for our song.’” The duo won the Drama Desk for Outstanding Lyrics when the show was Off-Broadway at Second Stage. “Steven is like the winner of that [award],” said Paul. “He would write scenes knowing that he was writing into a song. … It’s really specific to that scene, and that’s why Steven is so good.”
“Something that Justin has said before,” said Pasek, “we tried to write songs that the characters would actually listen to.” To make it feel real, Paul wanted to write music his characters would listen to and not just sing. As for how the two feel watching the finished product: “Today was a special day because it was the first day to watch as audience members without the chance to keep changing and adjusting,” said Pasek. “They say that musicals are never finished, they’re just abandoned because you always want to keep working. But today we just got to enjoy.”
Don’t forget to shop Dear Evan Hansen merchandise at the Playbill store!