“Dear Evan Hansen” is a cultural phenomenon.
Few Broadway musicals in recent memory have achieved such a far-reaching impact across a diverse array of audiences. It’s a show that brings people together from all walks of life, and provides a poignant commentary that rings cuttingly for the digital age.
And the hype surrounding it just keeps building ― even receiving a shoutout in the most recent season of cult television show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
“It’s been something that really kind of caught us all by surprise, to be honest,” Steven Levenson, who wrote the book for “Dear Evan Hansen,” told HuffPost. “I mean you don’t, or at least I don’t, start off trying to write something that has universal appeal, you know?”In the show, Evan Hansen ― a role originated on Broadway by Tony Award winner Ben Platt, and currently played by Taylor Trensch ― is a senior in high school who struggles with extreme social anxiety. After something horrible happens to one of his classmates, Hansen finds himself telling a lie that eventually has monumental implications ― and goes on to shape his life and the lives of the people around him in an extreme way.
With music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, “Dear Evan Hansen” is a show full of complicated emotions that uniquely tells a story of public grief and mourning in the digital age. It’s also a show that has struck a chord with a number of audiences ― including the LGBTQ community.
While Hansen isn’t portrayed as gay, the set of struggles the character navigates as an outsider and complex themes of the show seem to have resonated in a remarkable way with queer people.
For Levenson, part of this conversation centers around how the show grapples with mental health, an issue that disproportionately affects queer people.
“Emotional disorders, like depression and anxiety are so staggeringly high right now. And suicide among especially trans youth is scarily high,” Levenson said. “And so I do think that that has something to do with it.
“It’s a show that really goes to that place where you see what would drive someone into just that place, where they think that they want to give up and they don’t,” he continued. “So I think that it definitely speaks to that struggle, and struggling with the voice in your head ― I don’t mean that literally, but the voices of negativity, and the voices of exclusion, and ostracism. I think that’s something that queer youth especially can identify with and recognize.”