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‘Dear Evan Hansen’ disappoints fans of original Broadway show

‘Dear Evan Hansen’ disappoints fans of original Broadway show

‘Dear Evan Hansen’ disappoints fans of original Broadway show
September 30
12:00 2021

I saw “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway in New York in 2019, where I left the theater moved by Andrew Barth Feldman’s performance as lead Evan Hansen. Two years later, I left the movie theater after seeing Stephen Chbosky’s film adaptation and couldn’t believe it was the same person who directed “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

“Dear Evan Hansen” debuted on Broadway in 2016 with Ben Platt as the title role. Following lonely high schooler Evan Hansen, the play depicts his struggles with anxiety and depression. Assigned by his therapist as a coping mechanism, Hansen writes letters to himself. After a bad first day of school, he writes a letter to vent about his life, which ultimately ends up in the hands of outcast Connor Murphey. In the days following, Connor commits suicide with Hansen’s note in his pocket. Unaware the letter is not their son’s suicide note, the Murphy family mistakes Hansen for Connor’s best friend. Overcome by the neglect of his own parents and his desire for companionship, Hansen pretends to have been Connor’s best friend, his lie growing more elaborate as the story progresses.

Early reviews of “Evan Hansen” critiqued Chbosky’s decision to cast Platt as Hansen as opposed to a younger actor. Though not an unwarranted critique, “Evan Hansen” has more significant issues. Disappointingly, the visuals during musical numbers are stiff and uninspiring. The captivating vocals of Platt and company are accompanied by a significant lack of anything happening on screen. During most musical numbers, Hansen stands still or wanders around while singing, leaving the audience with nothing interesting to look at. The cinematography is flat and lifeless and the most upbeat song in the musical, “Sincerely, Me,” is sedated by poor sound mixing.

On Broadway, the musical’s set design consisted of projected images and not much else. The show relied heavily on the talent and chemistry of its actors, and the cast rose to the occasion. Feldman’s depiction of the Hansen was just awkward enough and his stutter wasn’t overly obnoxious. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the film adaptation. Although Platt is undeniably vocally talented, his acting was almost too dramatic for this film. On a stage, movements are overexaggerated because of the distance between the actors and the audience. This isn’t the case in film. While Platt’s overexaggerated shaky hands and stutter may fit on a Broadway stage, it’s almost jarring to see on the big screen. Platt’s depiction feels less like Hansen is someone with anxiety and more like he’s pretending to be someone with anxiety.

The biggest difference between the Broadway and film versions of “Evan Hansen” was the roles each character played in the plot of the show. Two significant songs, “Anybody have a Map?” and “Good for You,” were cut from the soundtrack, eliminating Hansen’s mother Heidi (Julianne Moore) from the story nearly entirely. The relationship between Heidi and her son isn’t developed on screen, so when they reconnect at the end of the film, it’s not as impactful as it was in the Broadway version. Hansen’s relationship with the Murphey’s daughter Zoe (Kaitlyn Denver) is additionally much shorter-lived and lacks chemistry. Most frustratingly, the film doesn’t give us enough of the talented Amy Adams, who plays Mrs. Murphey. Overall, the film cuts airtime from smaller but equally talented cast, giving it to Platt, and is worse for it.

Ultimately, “Evan Hansen” shines on a Broadway stage but fails to translate to film. Rather than butchering one of my favorite musicals into a feature film, I would’ve like to see the show performed on stage and recorded like “Hamilton” was in 2020.

Maddie’s final rating: 2/5

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Madeleine Moore

Madeleine Moore

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