Dear Evan Hansen is the new musical about a boy who’ll do almost anything to fit in amongst his peers. Feeling like an outsider, he stretches the truth to find friendship. Just like the title character, the show’s cast and creative team members have also felt like they haven’t always fit in. Here, they open up about times they felt just like the title character in Second Stage’s new Off-Broadway show.
When have you felt on the outside?
Ben Platt (Evan Hansen)
I think going to my elementary school—I can’t say high school because my high school was filled with arts kids, thank God, so that’s when I sort of felt I belonged—but growing up as a young kid, all the boys are doing soccer, and everybody’s wanting to go to basketball, and at camp, too, everyone’s like, “Sports is the best part of the day.” For me, I was always trying to put shows on in my backyard and [thinking], “Everybody leave me alone, I want to listen to my cast albums.” So, I would say then, but I was very fortunate in that my parents sent me to a place where there were a lot of like-minded kids, and then I was like, “Oh, so, the weird kids are the great ones.” I’ve known that for a long time.
Benj Pasek (Music and Lyrics)
Every day. Every day. I think we all feel—especially theatre kids, anybody who was a theatre nerd growing up feels like they were [an outsider]. I think that the theatre attracts people who feel like they’re on the outside of something, but I definitely felt like I wasn’t a cool kid in high school, and I definitely feel like I’m always trying to seem like a cool kid now even in the theatre community. [The community] celebrated Stacey Mindich, our producer, last night, and [I] got to sit next to Kelli O’Hara, and I was just like, “I hope she likes me.” You still carry that around with you, and it’s a weird chip on your shoulder that hopefully goes away as you become an adult, but I think that there’s this weird, awkward high-schooler/middle-schooler in all of us that just wants to be seen and be heard and be loved and be noticed and feel like people know the real you and see the real you and that they love the real you. I think we’re all searching for that.
Justin Paul (Music and Lyrics)
I think that it’s about belonging, too. I always felt like I loved theatre, but I loved sports… In high school, I know I always felt like I didn’t quite fit. You feel like you’re supposed to fit into something: “I am this type of kid” or “I am this type of kid.” And, because of the things I was interested in, or what I was good at or wasn’t good at, I never felt like I fit one place. I think as an adult, you learn to be like, “Oh, that’s what makes me cool” or “That’s what makes me special” or “That’s what makes me me.” Whether that’s cool or special or not, it’s me. But, I know as a kid, I always was like, “I don’t think I fit anywhere,” and I think the show is also about a need to belong—to be a part of something, to feel like you’re… Evan wants to be in this family. Alana, the character, wants to have a group of people at school that she can talk to about her emotional needs. It’s all about belonging.
Steven Levenson (Book)
I feel like we all definitely constantly feel awkward, and I guess as adults we learn to put on the right kind of armor, or we learn to pretend like we don’t care, but definitely that awkwardness never goes away, does it? Maybe it does. I think we all secretly believe that everybody else is okay. Maybe as we become older, we learn that that’s not true, but even as I say that I don’t believe it, so…
Laura Dreyfuss (Zoe)
Like all the time! I think it’s something that everyone relates to at some point in their life, especially being in theatre; I feel like you’re always kind of an outsider—especially in high school.
Mike Faist (Connor)
Will Roland (Jared)
Speaking as an actor, I think there’s a lot of moments where you can certainly feel on the outside of social circles. Evan talks about needing to be seen, and a lot of times as an actor, it’s hard to be seen—literally. But also, you feel like, “I’m out here. I’m doing this. I’m trying to get people to know who I am,” and it can sometimes feel like an impossible struggle. I think that is something that Evan experiences in the play. I recall being not very athletic in middle school and high school and looking for, “Where’s my community? Where can I sort of belong?” And I know that starting to do theatre, I feel like a lot of us got into this initially because we found a community theatre and stuck with it.
Kristolyn Lloyd (Alana)
Nobody has ever gone through life without feeling like an outsider, at least at one point. I mean, middle school is the worst years. No one ever went through middle school and was like, “I loved middle school.” For me, I think it was growing up as a kid in Houston, TX, and being African-American among a handful of us in a [town where the] majority [were] Caucasian. That’s something that’s stuck out to me, just even in playing this role—this girl who is dying to be seen and heard and feels a little lonely and like an overachiever. I think that’s how I relate to it—just tapping back into those years where you have to kind of fight as a kid.
John Dossett (Larry)
I felt like an outsider my whole life. I always felt not a part of it until I came to New York. I’ll never forget the day. Literally, I was sitting in a room with a bunch of other actors. I was part of this lab at Circle Rep, and I said, “Well, I’m as much here as anyone else. I guess I’m a part of this.” It was just turning a switch.
Rachel Bay Jones (Heidi)
Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like all of us do, don’t we? At certain moments during the day, at certain social situations, I think we’re faced with those feelings a lot.
Jennifer Laura Thompson (Cynthia)
Let’s just say in a big city like New York, you can feel very, very lonely, and that’s sort of a metaphor for what [Evan] lives through in his life because Evan finds it so difficult to connect with people, and it’s very hard for a parent to witness their own child feel that kind of loneliness.
Michael Greif (Director)
I think I had some difficult years in middle school and high school, especially middle school. There was a moment where I did a lot of reinventing of myself. I sort of looked at myself at age 12 and thought, “Oh, I’m maybe not going to make it if I don’t really, really change a bit of how I present myself to the world.” And I did. A lot of that had to do with issues of sexuality and gender—I was a real girly boy. By the time I was in high school, I got a little more esteem, and I was able to integrate a little bit more of who I really was, but in middle school I really did a major reinvention of myself, and I thought I really needed to in order to get through because I felt things really slipping. You go from a place of, “Everything is possible” [to a] time [when] you’re 11 or 12 [and] you get a sense of how the world sees you, and I was feeling like the world was not liking me, so I needed to change myself a little to make people like me more. Then in high school, I found a way to like myself more, and that helped in a much more real way.
Danny Mefford (Choreographer)
I think everyone feels like an outsider many times over the course of their lives. I think it’s a universal experience. That’s why we seek relationships with other people, that’s why we seek connections with other people because we are fundamentally trapped in our bodies alone. So everyone feels loneliness. Everyone feels like they’re not seen or understood at some point in their life, and I think that’s sort of what makes telling stories so beautiful, too, because we get to all go to the same place and see this story about being an outsider and feeling alone, and we get to be reminded that we all feel that and that it’s a universal experience, and that is a healing thing in some way.