I continually go through life trying to learn from the events of everyday, whether that is a sporting event, TV show, movie or Broadway musical. I must admit that Broadway musicals particularly “speak” to me and force my introspection. In my book MY CHILDREN’S CHILDREN: RAISING YOUNG CITIZENS IN THE AGE OF COLUMBINE, I devoted a chapter to lessons from the musical “Annie.” The musical “Dear Evan Hansen” recently had an equal impact and is worthy of examining its lessons. The songs are noted below.
Anybody have a map?– The two mothers in the play lament how difficult parenting can be, especially with teenagers who are troubled. Parenting is not an innate ability, and parents need constant assistance from family, friends and professionals. In many ways we do fly blind through this process. There is no specific map per se, only the willingness to learn from each day and from each interaction to love and relate in meaningful ways with our children. By being that safe, stable nurturing relationship, we are on the right path. But every day is different with its unique challenges.
Waving from a window – Sung by Evan Hansen, this powerful song describes the emotions of an outsider (waving from the window, tapping on the glass, not being heard by anyone, nobody waving back, staying out of the sun since you only get burned). These feelings can leave unreconcilable pain for the individual unless we are willing to reach out to such people, by recognizing their pain and seeking to help them.
For forever– Evan describes a perfect day – two friends enjoying each other’s company, sharing stories and feelings, and taking in a beautiful sunlit, cloudless day. Unfortunately for Evan, this was his fantasy since he was on the outside and did not have such a dear friend.
Sincerely, me– Evan, with the help of Jared, goes about creating a false narrative of his friendship with the deceased teen, Connor, who committed suicide. This series of emails would allow him to show how he had been friends with Connor when in fact they were only mere acquaintances. Evan is starting to spin a web of deceit that will only come back to haunt him.
Requiem – The parents and sister of Connor are so angry at Connor that they are not ready to acknowledge their grief from his suicide, that they will sing no requiem. Forgiveness is the most difficult task in our lifetimes and evolves over time with our own emotional intelligence. Their emotions are understandable but hopefully will change over time as they understand the emotional anguish that Connor was dealing with.
If I could tell her– Evan tells Zoe, Connor’s sister, how much Connor admired her. But this admiration was not based in fact and actually reflected Evan’s view of Zoe. Evan had a crush on Zoe and always hoped that they could be friends. He is starting to dig a bigger hole of deception and will suffer from his increasing number of lies. The cost of lies is serious.
Disappear – This number reminds us that no one deserves to be forgotten; no one deserves to fade away; no one deserves to disappear. Everyone deserves to be seen and embraced and loved.
You will be found– This showstopper makes me tingle every time I hear it, and I have listened to it many times since seeing the play. As the main theme in the song notes (“Even when the dark comes crashin’ through, when you need a friend to carry you, and when you’re broken on the ground, you will be found”), there is always hope and loved ones to help when all else seems lost and nothing can be done. YOU WILL BE FOUND is an absolutely beautiful anthem to the human spirit, whether broken or not, and the powers of restoration.
To break in a glove – Evan’s father left him when he was young, and Evan desperately seeks a father figure. Connor’s father shows him how to break in a baseball glove (it happened to be Connor’s never-used glove) but the intended lesson is to be patient and do things the right way. The irony here is that Connor’s father is giving him some fatherly advice (Evan did not have a significant father role model) but at the same time Evan is spinning an even denser web of lies to boost his status and well-being. Again the cost of lies is serious.
Only us – This hauntingly pleasing duet by Evan and Zoe highlights the wonderful life they now share as dear friends (boy-friend/girl-friend). All of the pain and suffering that they have endured individually and jointly has melted away. Yet, this is only a façade—Evan’s lies are about to be revealed and bring all of this happiness to an end. Love is beautiful but only when lived with integrity.
Good for you – Evan’s lies have been revealed and he is openly chastised for getting what he wanted at everyone else’s expense. He is crushed and his world comes crashing down.
Words fail – We have all been in the position where words do not adequately describe the emotions of the moment—either when everything seems perfect or when our world is collapsing around us. Evan’s honest assessment of his lies and the admittedly imperfect reasons for the lies will lead to his continued introspection and hopefully personal growth going forward. Even though words fail, they are still are best method for meaningful communication.
So big/so small – Evan’s mother chronicles the time that Evan’s father moved out and left the two of them to make a life for themselves. She readily admits her shortcomings since then, currently and probably in the future. But she pledges that she is now there for him, no matter what happens. (On a personal note, having been in a similar situation as a child, this song still brings tears to my eyes.)
In the finale, we see that Evan can envision a way forward with help and support. In some ways his redemption is conditional and will require significant effort and assistance from friends and loved ones.
I see that our job is to continually seek to understand others—and to understand that appearances can be deceiving. We might need to gently peer behind the curtain so that we can understand the angst of our fellow citizens and seek to help in any way possible. We don’t want anyone to disappear and we want everyone to be found.