'Evan Hansen' Makes Music Out Of Teen Angst And Anxiety A new musical by Tony-nominated songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen is a comedic drama that deals with teen suicide in the age of social media.
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'Evan Hansen' Makes Music Out Of Teen Angst And Anxiety

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'Evan Hansen' Makes Music Out Of Teen Angst And Anxiety

'Evan Hansen' Makes Music Out Of Teen Angst And Anxiety

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

An anxious, awkward teenager, social media and suicide - these are the themes in the new musical titled "Dear Evan Hansen." It's getting a lot of buzz right now at Arena Stage here in Washington, D.C. Sweet, sad and quite moving says The New York Times. According to The Washington Post, it radiates with charm and wit. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports on this new show that explores human behavior in the digital age.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: In "Dear Evan Hansen," teenage self-loathing is both funny and painful to watch.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "DEAR EVAN HANSEN")

LAURA DREYFUSS: (As Zoe) I'm Zoe.

BEN PLATT: (As Evan) Yes - no, I know.

DREYFUSS: (As Zoe) You know?

PLATT: (As Evan) No, no, no. Sorry. I just, I mean - I just - I've seen you play guitar in jazz band. I love jazz band. I love jazz. Well, not all jazz but definitely, like, jazz-band jazz. That's so weird. I'm sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

BLAIR: Evan Hansen is definitely on the high end of awkward. But actor Ben Platt who plays Evan says he's also like a lot of people who struggle to make friends.

PLATT: Evan Hansen has a lot of trouble connecting to people, especially in this age of social media where it's very easy for your thoughts to be immediately shared with everyone and for everything that you say to be criticized and judged and talked about. If he had it his way, I don't think he would say anything to anyone. And so that only adds to sort of his anxiety.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "DEAR EVAN HANSEN")

PLATT: (As Evan, Singing) I've learned to slam on the break before I even turn the key, before I make the mistake, before I lead with the worst of me. Give them no reason to stare. No slipping up if you slip away.

BLAIR: The music and lyrics were written by the Tony-nominated songwriters Benj Pasak and Justin Paul. Evan Hansen is a character you feel sorry for, but at the same time, he's no angel. He gets tangled in a web of lies of his own making. The story is set in motion when a student at Hansen's school commits suicide. That student was also something of an outcast. Evan realizes a way to get attention is to pretend to have been the student's close friend. The story's inspired by a real event that happened when songwriter Benj Pasak was in high school.

BENJ PASAK: There was a student who was sort of an anonymous student. Nobody was particularly that close to him, and over the summer, he passed away from a drug overdose, actually. And when we all came back to school the next year, he became a sort of sensational figure. After his death, basically everyone claimed him to be their friend. And we were really interested in why, psychologically, people were doing that.

BLAIR: In the show, Evan creates fake emails between him and Connor, the kid who killed himself. He gives a speech about his fake friendship at a school assembly. Connor's sister doesn't understand. After all, her brother seemed to have no friends when he was alive.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "DEAR EVAN HANSEN")

DREYFUSS: (As Zoe) Alana put a copy of your speech online, and people started sharing it, I guess. And, I mean, it's everywhere. People from all over the country are talking about Connor. Yesterday, he had 56 friends on here.

PLATT: (As Evan) OK, well, how many does he have now?

DREYFUSS: (As Zoe) 1,239.

BLAIR: Evan's scheme gets even more elaborate.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "DEAR EVAN HANSEN")

PLATT: (As Evan, Singing) Maybe it's possible. Nobody else but the two of us here say that it's possible.

DREYFUSS: (As Zoe, Singing) We could just watch the whole world disappear.

BLAIR: Getting "Dear Evan Hansen" to this point took several years. The show got off the ground when Broadway producer Stacey Mindich encouraged Pasek and Paul to write a show they hadn't seen before. Then Arena Stage in Washington stepped up to produce it. Next spring, it'll head to New York Second Stage Theater. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "DEAR EVAN HANSEN")

PLATT: (As Evan, Singing) We start with stars in our eyes. We start believing that we belong. But every sun doesn't rise, and no one tells you where you went wrong. Step out. Step out of the sun if you keep getting burned. Step out. Step out of the sun because you've learned, because you've learned. On the outside, always looking in - will I ever be more...

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