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New York Show About Lonely Teen Brings Audiences to Tears



Of the 28 shows playing on New York City’s Broadway, the musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” probably gets the most people crying.

The show centers on a lonely teenager, Evan Hansen, and his schoolmates. They find communicating with each other to be difficult -- even with tools such as Facebook.

New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood praised the show and the young actor who plays Evan, Ben Platt. Isherwood wrote that Blatt’s eyes “blink in continual embarrassment” whenever “he has to interact socially, which isn’t often.”

But Isherwood said that, below all the insecurity, Platt shows the character’s strong desire to be liked -- or even just to be noticed.

Laura Dreyfuss and Ben Platt in "Dear Evan Hansen.
Laura Dreyfuss and Ben Platt in "Dear Evan Hansen.

The “Dear Evan Hansen” story centers on what happens when a teen-ager at Hansen’s school kills himself.

Before the tragedy, Evan had been writing “Dear Evan Hansen” letters to himself at the suggestion of a doctor. The doctor wanted Evan to start out each day by saying something positive about himself.

But one of Evan’s letters was taken by the boy who killed himself. The boy’s parents found it in his clothing. They thought their son had written the letter to Evan. They believed Evan was a friend they did not know their son had.

They reached out to Evan. But, Evan did not admit to them that he and their son were not really friends. Evan later “trended” on Facebook after he gave a speech urging people not to let his so-called “friend’s” brief life go unnoticed.

Steven Levenson wrote the book for the musical. That means he wrote all of the words that are not part of a song in the show.

He says audiences feel strong emotional reactions because of the show’s actors.

“I know that lot of cast members have gotten letters from people saying I saw myself in you, seeing the show inspired me to have hope, which is really truly incredible and the best gift that you can ask for as a creator.”

Some audience members said the show helped them talk to their children “about things that are difficult to discuss,” he added.

Steven Levenson
Steven Levenson

Michael Park is one of the show’s adult stars. From the stage, he said, he does not notice people crying in the audience. But Park said he and other actors can feel the energy from audience members, as they react to the emotional story line and powerful songs.

He often hears directly from audience members after the show, when people line up to get their programs signed. Some parents quietly say the words, “thank you,” after he and other actors sign programs for their children.

One time, Park said, he was asked, ‘can you be my dad?’

“That’s a pretty powerful reaction,” Park said. “You just kind of pause and give a hug. It’s all you can do.”

Michael Park in "Dear Evan Hansen."
Michael Park in "Dear Evan Hansen."

Evan Hansen selling all seats

“Dear Evan Hansen” is a success. The show is selling out all performances. And it is likely to win the “Tony Award” for best musical. Ben Platt, its star, is expected to win the Tony for best actor in a musical.

Platt and the show’s creators are all young. Platt is 24 and is signed to play Even Hansen through November.

Benj Pasek, 31, and Justin Paul, 32, wrote the music. This is a good year for them. They already won the Academy Award for best song written for a movie. That movie was “La La Land.”

Levenson, who wrote the book, is 32. He also has a second hit show playing in New York. It is called, “If I Forget.” And he is working on a new musical movie.

Levenson said he owes a lot to his playwriting teacher at Brown University in Rhode Island. Her name is Paula Vogel.

At the end of the semester, Vogel takes each of her students out for coffee to discuss their work and what should come next. Levenson said at the time he was getting ready to graduate from Brown and had “no idea what he would do next.”

“She said if this is something you want to do -- this writing thing -- I believe that you can do it.”

“That kept me going for several years, just that one conversation -- you know through sort of the darker moments of being in New York and trying to figure it all out. So, I give her all the credit for that.”

I'm Dorothy Gundy. And I'm Bruce Alpert.

Bruce Alpert reported on this story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and share your views on our Facebook Page. Have you ever felt lonely?

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Words in This Story

blink - v. to close and then open your eyes very quickly

embarrassment - n. the state of feeling foolish in front of others

stage - n. a raised platform in a theater where the performers stand

audience - n. group of people who gather together to listen to a concert or watch a play or movie

pause - v. to stop what you are doing

hug - n. to put your arms around someone especially as a way of showing love or friendship

inspire - v. to make someone want to do something

incredible - adj. difficult or impossible to believe

conversation - n. a discussion

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