In early August, my daughter and I went to a Broadway show at the Citizens Bank Opera House on Washington Street in Boston. Ever since we saw “The Book of Mormon,” my daughter, Rose, had been wanting to see “Dear Evan Hansen."
As is our habit, we arrived very early, so we were some of the first people to get through security. The opera house itself is ornately decorated, reminding me of the gilded age of the late 1800’s. I am always awed when I walk through the lobby and walk down the ornate stairs to the women’s restroom. The bathroom itself is a palette of gilded beauty and curling architecture of richness, hinting at a Grecian style of luxury and opulence. The Boston Opera House opened in 1928, showing films and Vaudeville shows built upon the richness of French and Italian theater.
We made our way up the stairs to the balcony where our seats were located. We could see everything, even the musicians reflected in the mirror on stage. I intermittently studied the program and gazed at the stage which was set with tall vertical screens representing various forms of social media. The sound of cellphone beeps coming from the stage underscored the setting. There was a removable, circular stage set in the middle with a bed and nightstand.
The lights began to dim, and the bed was illuminated. There, sat an awkward young man with a broken arm and a computer on his lap. The teenager’s name was Evan, and he was attempting to write a letter to himself per the orders of his therapist. He kept trying to write something positive, yet it continued to steer down a negative path. The story is centered around his letter and its effects on the outside world, especially following a classmate's suicide. A classmate portrayed as yet another misunderstood teenager, looked upon negatively because of his visual appearance.
I do not want to give too much of the meat of the story away, so I will share the emotional effects the show had on me. I was not too keen on what I thought was a sad story, and yes, it was sad, but not completely. It was a story of struggle, growth, and learning. Emotions for the audience, however, were heightened because during the same weekend in August, three mass shootings occurred.
The songs and the music brought tears to my eyes and the voices of the actors penetrated my senses and sensibilities. There was something for everyone in this show, as there were several different perspectives of the same situation. I could see what modern teenagers are dealing with today concerning social media, acceptance, and individuality. I felt what the single mother felt as Evan spent more time with another family. I also empathized with his need to search for an elusive father figure that was seemingly nonexistent. I also watched through the eyes of the generation that watched the first mass school shooting at Columbine High school in Littleton, Colo. in 1999.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is sad. It is one of those shows that will touch anyone, because it can be seen through many different lenses. It is beautifully written, and the acting and singing is beautifully performed. I also feel that it is a show that most parents should see to catch a glimpse of the effects of social media on their children, and what hiding behind a screen can do to a young, timid mind trying to find his or her place in an already fast paced society, with the added dimension of the Internet.