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'Dear Evan Hansen' Musical Takes On Teen Behavior, Tangled In Social Media


"Dear Evan Hansen" is a play that exploits human behavior in the digital age. Sweet, sad and quite moving, says The New York Times. The Washington Post says it radiates with charm and wit. After a successful run in Washington, D.C., last summer, "Dear Evan Hansen" opens tonight at Second Stage Theatre in New York. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports on the show about an awkward teen, social media and suicide.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: In "Dear Evan Hansen," teenage self-loathing is both funny and painful to watch.



BEN PLATT: (As Evan Hansen) Yes. No, I know.

DREYFUSS: (As Zoe) You know?

PLATT: (As Evan Hansen) No, no, no, sorry. Just - I mean you - I've seen you play guitar in jazz band. I love jazz band. I love jazz. Well, not all of jazz. But definitely, like, jazz band jazz. That's so weird. I'm sorry.

BLAIR: Evan Hansen is definitely on the high end of awkward. But actor Ben Platt, who plays Evan, says he's also like a lot of people who struggle to make friends.

PLATT: Evan Hansen has a lot of trouble connecting to people, especially in this age of social media where it's very easy for your thoughts to be immediately shared with everyone and for everything that you say to be criticized and judged and talked about. If he had it his way, I don't think he would say anything to anyone. And so that only adds to sort of his anxiety.


PLATT: (As Evan Hansen, singing) I've learned to slam on the brake before I even the turn the key, before I make the mistake, before I leave with the worst of me. Give them no reason to stare. No slipping out if you slip away.

BLAIR: The music and lyrics were written by the Tony-nominated songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Evan Hansen is a character you feel sorry for, but at the same time, he's no angel. He gets tangled in a web of lies of his own making. The story is set in motion when a student at Hansen's school commits suicide. That student was also something of an outcast. Evan realizes a way to get attention is to pretend to have been the student's close friend. The story is inspired by a real event that happened when songwriter Benj Pasek was in high school.

BENJ PASEK: There was a student who was sort of an anonymous student. Nobody was particularly that close to him. And over the summer, he passed away from a drug overdose actually. And when we all came back to school the next year, he became a sort of sensational figure. After his death, basically everyone claimed him to be their friend. And we were really interested in why, psychologically, people were doing that.

BLAIR: In the show, Evan creates fake emails between him and Connor, the kid who killed himself. He gives a speech about his fake friendship at a school assembly. Connor's sister doesn't understand. After all, her brother seemed to have no friends when he was alive.


DREYFUSS: (As Zoe) Alana put a copy of your speech online. And people started sharing it I guess. And, I mean, it's everywhere. People from all over the country are talking about Connor. Yesterday he had 56 friends on here.

PLATT: (As Evan Hansen) OK, well, how many does he have now?

DREYFUSS: (As Zoe) One-thousand-two-hundred-thirty-nine.

BLAIR: Evan's scheme gets even more elaborate.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Maybe it's possible. Nobody else but the two of us here. Say that it's possible. We could just watch the whole world disappear.

BLAIR: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul first came up with the idea for this musical when Broadway producer Stacey Mindich challenged them to write a show they hadn't seen before. After a successful run at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., last summer, the show opens tonight at New York's Second Stage Theatre. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.


PLATT: (As Evan Hansen, singing) We start with stars in our eyes. We start believing that we belong. But every sun doesn't rise. And no one tells you where you went wrong. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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