dear evan hansen and an ode to loneliness

4 Oct 2022

I'm just back from a solo trip to London. I was over for a few days for a concert. I was seeing Cornelia Jakobs, she was the Swedish entrant in Eurovision this year and was my personal favourite of the year so when she announced a UK tour date I absolutely had to go. Naturally, all gigs take place in London and London alone (I've been here with Il Volo before) so if I wanted to see Cornelia, it meant a trip to London. I love London and I genuinely like exploring it so this wasn't too much of a hardship even if it meant that I did have to go all by myself.

While I was there I decided to stay an extra day so that I could finally go and see Dear Evan Hansen, a show I've loved since they released the first song back in 2016. I had planned to go and see it while I was in New York in 2017 but didn't so then when it opened in the West End in 2019 I had also always planned on going to see it but somehow never managed to get around to it. That meant that when it was announced that it was closing, I urgently needed to find an excuse to finally go and my Cornelia Jakobs concert seemed like the perfect opportunity. 

Let me start by saying that I am very familiar with Dear Evan Hansen, I know the cast recording off by heart and I've even read the novel that they adapted from the show. It's something that I've followed for a long time so finally being able to see it was like closing out a chapter of my life. The London cast was absolutely amazing and I can't actually think of a better way to finally see this show that has been so important to me for so many years.

If you're unfamiliar with the plot of Dear Evan Hansen. It follows Evan Hansen a high school senior who as a therapy assignment has to write letters to himself saying why it was going to be a good day but when one of those letters is taken by another student who later commits suicide and it is found with Evan's note his family think that their son Connor wrote it as a suicide note addressed to Evan. Rather than face up to the truth Evan lies and pretends that he and Connor were in fact best friends who wrote each other emails. This lie enables Evan to have the life he's always wanted, a family who are always around, people knowing his name, and the girl of his dreams liking him back. But what happens when the truth comes out and the lies he built around himself come tumbling down. 

Dear Evan Hansen is a show about loneliness and the importance of friendship and how the need to belong somewhere can cause you to do things you wouldn't normally do. It's a very personal story for me because loneliness is something that I do genuinely suffer from a lot and each of the characters in the show models their loneliness in a different way and it's portrayed in different ways in the different songs.

Despite already being familiar with the show and all of its elements, it hit especially hard for me this time around because I was actually there alone because I'd travelled by myself to London. So naturally, a musical all about loneliness when you're feeling a little lonely might cause a bit of a visceral reaction so this is sort of half a review half a study on loneliness in all of its forms. 

"When you're falling in a forest and there's nobody around, do you ever really crash or even make a sound?"

As the main character, Evan is the main vessel for loneliness in the show. Evan is portrayed at the beginning of the show as an anxious teen who spends most of his time in his room or at the park by himself. He begins with his arm in a cast after he broke his arm falling from a tree and nobody was around to catch him or even come to his rescue. He begins as a character with nobody around him, his mum is always working and he always feels left out of every social group but as the show develops and people start to welcome him into their circles he starts to really appreciate the power of friendship.

"Like we'll be alright for forever this way Two friends on a perfect day"

Evan's relationship with Connor throughout the show is really interesting because the whole thing is completely fabricated from what Evan wishes he had as a friend. This is particularly evident in the song For Forever which is where Evan first leans deeply into his pretend friendship with Connor. He takes a memory of something he experienced by himself and imagines how it might have been different if he'd had a friend there. 

This is followed by Sincerely, Me where Evan seeks the help of family friend Jared to assist him with fabricating emails proving that Connor and he were really friends. At the beginning of the show, we see Evan and Jared interact when Jared informs him that family friends and real friends aren't the same thing but as the show progresses and the two grow closer it shows the importance of cultivating the relationships you already have but might not realise.

"Why should I play this game of pretend, remembering through a secondhand sorrow?"

Evan's experience of the Murphys was so far removed from what the Murphys actually experienced. This song Requiem shows how loneliness can exist within a family. Connor and Zoe were so far removed from each other when as siblings they had an opportunity to combat each other's loneliness when instead they experienced the opposite. That meant when Connor died, Zoe didn't have anything to mourn. 

The same is true for his parents and actually everyone else in the school through The Connor Project, people who went to school with Connor for 14 years, and never really knew him, are mourning the person they never got to know like maybe things would have been different had we been friends.

"But he kept it all inside his head What he saw he left unsaid"

Zoe, who also experiences loneliness even outside her family, begins to open up to Evan as he confides in her all the things that Connor would say about her. Except they're not Connor's thoughts, they're Evan's thoughts. This is an important moment for Zoe as it shows that as she's been existing, that someone has been taking notice of her and that maybe she's not as alone as she thought she was because at least one person sees her.

"No one deserves to be forgotten No one deserves to fade away No one should come and go And have no one know he was ever even here No one deserves to disappear"

This is one of the big messages of the show, that even someone like Connor, who had no friends and nobody really even liked, deserved to be forgotten which is something that surely Connor felt during his life that nobody would even notice if he wasn't there. but as Alana put it even something as simple as "we had english class together" is enough of a memory to show that someone made even a tiny impact on someone else's life.

Have you ever felt like nobody was there? Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere? Have you ever felt like you could disappear? Like you could fall, and no one would hear?

You Will Be Found is the sort of song that hits very very hard for perpetually lonely people. It starts off sad and hopeless but by the end when everyone is chanting 'You are not alone" suddenly everything is going to be okay. Don't get me wrong I have friends but it can often feel as though all of my friends have a better friend in someone else, but even despite all that there are people in your life that do care about you, you just have to reach out and look for them. 

I think a lot of that for me comes from being an enneagram 9 and fearing confrontation, which in turn leads me to not ask for anything through a fear of upsetting people but that's something that I've really tried to work on these past few years and I think I'm in a much better place now with that than I was a few years ago. People genuinely want to help and be there for you if you're struggling with anything. it's not a burden it's actually a privilege that you've trusted them enough to confide in them.

"There's a place where we don't have to feel unknown and every time that you call out you're a little less alone"

I think the character of Alana was really interesting, she's a character that you don't really get a big grasp of from just the soundtrack and even from the book but seeing her on stage she really struck a chord with me. She's always talking about how people are some of her very best 'acquaintances' where instead of trying to form deep friendships with people she only ever gets to know them on a surface level so that they can't hurt her because she doesn't really know them. She has a lot of acquaintances to ease the loneliness but she doesn't really have any friends. Nobody that she can 100% rely on which is evidenced when Evan steps away from The Connor Project when he finds the belonging that he so yearned for in the Murphy's.

"Cause what if everyone saw? What if everyone knew? Would they like what they saw? Or would they hate it too?"

Sometimes the reason that we don't let people in, or push them away is because we're afraid that if people really knew us, they wouldn't want to be friends with us or spend time with us anymore but vulnerability is such an important part of building healthy relationships. If we can't be vulnerable with people and expose our true selves then how can we expect to build strong bonds with people if we are always lying to them in some capacity. 

Words Fail always makes me cry because it's the first time that we hear Evan being honest. He's finally being honest about the loneliness he feels and in his explanation of why he decided to lie to people who trusted him. While we don't condone what Evan did it's a real moment of vulnerability from him where he admits to the darkness he feels and how the lie made him feel more wanted so he clung to the parts that made him feel needed and useful and loved even though they were all built upon lies. It shows us the damage that putting up a false front can cause the relationships we've worked hard to build to shatter in an instant.

"The house felt so big, and I felt so small"

While Evan was lonely and felt like he was the only person to experience it when in fact everyone, including his own mother was experiencing a very similar feeling. That's the thing about loneliness. Because it's such an individual experience, it so often feels like you are the only one experiencing it at any given time when in fact it's very likely that many people around you are feeling a very similar thing and all it takes is for you to reach out. your hand and maybe you can be support for someone else while you're looking for support yourself.

Sorry, that ended up being a little rambly, I just knew that as soon as the curtain fell that I had too many thoughts about it just to sit in my head so hopefully this has been somewhat helpful to somebody. If you can manage to make it to see Dear Evan Hansen at the Nöel Coward Theatre before it closes at the end of this month I can wholeheartedly recommend it but if you can't just know that  'Even when the dark comes crashing though, when you need a friend to carry you and when you're broken on the ground, You Will Be Found' and 'You are not alone'.

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