Musicals have made the transition from stage to screen (and vice versa) for pretty much as long as there have been screens.
This journey boasts varying degrees of success, but I’m happy to report that the beloved, Tony-Award-Winning contemporary musical “Dear Evan Hansen” has made the leap relatively intact.
The titular Evan Hansen (played by Ben Platt who originated the role on Broadway) is a high school senior who is about as socially awkward as it gets.
With no friends and crippling anxiety, Evan does good just to make it out the door every day. By chance, Evan has a run-in with troubled student Connor (Colton Ryan) who subsequently commits suicide.
A series of misunderstanding thrusts Evan right into the middle of Connor’s grieving family and even though he wants to set the record straight, Evan finds the love and acceptance he’s been looking for from Connor’s mother Cynthia (Amy Adams), stepfather Larry (Danny Pino) and sister Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever).
“Dear Evan Hansen” deals with some pretty weighty material for a musical, putting the mental health struggles of all of its characters front and center while at the same time having them navigate the double-edged sword of social media and its ability to tear people down as quickly as it builds them up.
The songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (the creative team behind “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman”), while not exactly toe-tappers are instead rousing and emotional windows into the character’s souls.
Director Stephen Chbosky plays things relatively straight, working with a rock-solid screenplay by Steven Levenson, who also wrote the book for the musical.
While everything about this adaptation is pretty straightforward, the movie version of “Dear Evan Hansen” is elevated by its performances. Platt has Evan Hansen in his veins and his years of crafting the role on stage shows. Adams and Dever also shine, bringing depth and dimension to their roles.
And if Anne Hathaway can win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for arguably just one song in “Les Miserables,” then Julianne Moore as Evan’s mother Heidi should be in contention for her emotionally climactic performance of “So Big / So Small.”
A lot of how you’re going to feel about “Dear Evan Hansen” is baked into how you feel about musicals in general. It can be jarring to see people engaged in a heartfelt, emotional moment suddenly break into song (I find that whiplash to be a little less intense onstage), especially when dealing with such a weighty subject.
But the heart of “Dear Evan Hansen” remains true and its message that we’re not as alone as we think we are is never not worth hearing.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving suicide, brief strong language and some suggestive references.