Teens trying to find their way and feeling out of place. Parents feeling uncertain of how to connect and best raise their adolescent children. Social media posts taking on a life of their own and being less than accurate.
Sounds like a typical house on a typical day, right? But actually, these are themes from the new hit Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen. It focuses on all that and more, and it does so in incredibly moving and entertaining ways that stay with you long after you’ve exited the theater.
We were able to see the show this past week and it really, truly was amazing. I was fascinated by how my husband, teen, and I all connected deeply with the show, but in very different ways.
Evan is an anxious, lonely teenager who lives with his single mom and who desperately wants to fit in. His life spirals out of control after a lie goes viral on social media. Bullying and suicide are issues in the story, which is intense.
Going in, I had heard that Ben Platt’s performance as the title character was spectacular, and he exceeded those high expectations. But while Evan is certainly the heart and soul of this show, I was surprised by how much of the musical is about the parents, too. I was also surprised at how undone I was as the actors took their final bows.
The songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo behind La La Land, were great, and while the parenting songs are not those getting the most attention, they’re the ones that get right to the heart of the challenges today’s parents face as the first generation to raise digital natives.
The first song is titled “Anybody Have a Map?” That question pretty much sums up all my parenting quandaries. It features two moms struggling to parent effectively. They note their failure to find the right words to say to their kids and the gulf that sometimes exists between them and their children, despite their efforts.
So where’s the map?
I need a clue
‘Cause the scary truth is
I’m flying blind
I’m making this up as I go
As parents who want to raise a child who has grit (I’m guessing that’s a vast majority of us), it’s easy to connect with the song “To Break In a Glove” that uses breaking a baseball glove as a metaphor for talking the importance of about determination and patience in life.
You might not think it’s worth it
You might begin to doubt
But you can’t take any shortcuts
You gotta stick it out
And it’s the hard way
But it’s the right way
The right way… to break in a glove
Having been a single parent for many years, the song “So Big / So Small” hit so, so close to home. We’re talking ugly cry time, friends. Emphasis on the ugly. Judging from the sniffing softly echoing around the theater, Evan’s mom’s musical promise to always be there for her son packed an emotional wallop for many if not most of those in the theater.
The show reminds us that families are simultaneously imperfect and beautiful, each in its own way.
I realize this sounds serious and depressing, but please know that there are moments of laughter and levity throughout the show. The New York Times‘ review says it so very well, noting that “‘Dear Evan Hansen’ is anything but a downer; the feelings it stirs are cathartic expressions of a healthy compassion for Evan’s efforts to do good, and his anguish that he may be causing more trouble than he can cure.”
My teen described the show as “emotional, in a really good way.”
Of course, many parents also know all too well Evan’s struggle to fit in, desire to be noticed,and yearning to be liked. As the New York Times review says:
The musical is ideal for families looking for something yeastier and more complex than the usual sugary diversions. But then it should also appeal to just about anyone who has ever felt, at some point in life, that he or she was trapped “on the outside looking in,” as one lyric has it. Which is just about everybody with a beating heart.
One of the songs and themes in the show is “You Will Be Found.” It’s the hashtag often used when discussing the show on social media. While the show has a powerful message about social media, my daughter was full of glee when she saw that the Dear Evan Hansen Twitter account had retweeted her post proclaiming her love of the show. The irony of that isn’t lost on me.
You can see one of the songs here:
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