GENESIS OF A SONG: How Benj Pasek and Justin Paul Wrote ‘Waving Through a Window’
The Tony-winning songwriting duo reveal how Dear Evan Hansen’s anthem was born and how it helped guide the score for the entire musical.
This article was originally published June 6, 2017.
When Tony nominee Ben Platt sings “Waving Through a Window” at the top of Act 1—only the second song in the show—it sounds like an 11 o’clock number. The melody is so contagious and the performance so powerful, Platt has been singing it on late-night TV, morning shows, at talk backs, promotional events, and more since before the show opened on Broadway in December 2016—turning it into a verifiable anthem for the smash hit. “Waving Through a Window” isn’t just the musical trademark for Dear Evan Hansen—the song was the way into the score for composer-lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
Read: Inside Tony Winner Steven Levenson’s Dear Evan Hansen Notebook
“We still hadn’t figured out how we were going to take elements of pop music and radio sounds but really make it theatrical and make it feel like it comes from a character and how to find that balance,” says Paul of first trying to write music for the show. “When we wrote ‘Waving Through a Window,’ we were like, ‘Oh, okay, if that’s what this character, Evan, sounds like...,‘ that helped us unlock something.”
“Maybe that’s the kind of music Evan likes to listen to, so maybe that’s our access point,” Paul explains. For the songwriting team, the song unfurled the way to approach the full sound of the show and songs for the other characters.
As for the lyrics, the adage “If a tree crashes in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?” was a building block—not an official line in the show.
"Originally, those lyrics were written as just a metaphor,” says Pasek, “and then the more that we began to develop this show with [book writer] Steven [Levenson], Steven took those lyrics and then came up with the entire idea of Evan literally actually falling in a forest.”
For the full story, watch the video above.