Dear Evan Hansen shines from Broadway to box office

Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical now available in Lexington theaters.


“Dear Evan Hansen,” a movie adaptation of a Broadway musical, was released to theaters Sept. 24. Photo by Lilah Kimble, ’23.

Emma Malinak

Have you ever felt like nobody was there? Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere? Have you ever felt like you could disappear? Like you could fall, and no one would hear?

Many of us can answer “yes” to these questions as we navigate the challenges of college, careers, relationships and life as a whole. While these issues feel ever-present for us, they also act as the driving force for the movie adaptation of the musical Dear Evan Hansen, which was released to theaters on Sept. 24.

The story follows a teen suffering from anxiety as he navigates a local tragedy, overwhelming lies and challenges of his own. The musical is one of the most popular Broadway productions that explores prevalent mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, suicide, grief and rehabilitation through the viewpoint of young adults.

Washington and Lee University Counselor Dave Salge said he thinks that the actors represented these delicate issues well, bringing their own realistic portrayal of each complex character. He applauded the representation of these issues on such a large media platform.

“The most important thing is to normalize these topics,” he said. “A sense of solidarity can lift us out of dark times.”

Salge, whose counseling interest is grief, finds that the musical’s soundtrack appropriately captures the emotions associated with coping and mourning. 

In particular, he said that the song “Requiem” is instrumental in explaining “how people can experience the same loss and process it in such different ways.”

However, not all audiences were able to find this connection with the motion picture.

A $7.5 million opening weekend and critics’ negative reviews reveal the movie adaptation fell short of expectations. For many, this didn’t come as a surprise. Dear Evan Hansen originally premiered on Broadway in 2015 and took the world by storm, winning six Tony Awards for its candid coming-of-age story. 

It is difficult to reproduce a cultural phenomenon of that extent, and critics are expressing their disappointment with the changes to the soundtrack and overall plot progression in the movie adaptation.

Hannah Nolton, ’25, who saw both the Broadway musical and its movie adaptation, had a different opinion.

“I think the live version has more raw emotional power,” Nolton said. “But the movie did a good job portraying the storyline in a new light.”

Regardless of critics’ opinions, many can agree that the movie has a talented cast including Ben Platt, who portrayed Evan Hansen in the original Broadway cast, and other all-stars such as Amy Adams, Julianne Moore and Amandla Stenberg.

Stenberg plays the character of Alana, an overachiever who hides her struggles and insecurities behind a mountain of academic achievements and extracurriculars. 

While Alana did not have her own song in the Broadway production, Stenberg co-wrote the song “The Anonymous Ones” for the movie, which explores the facades that people present in order to protect their reputation. 

Nolton said he thinks the new song was important to understand Alana’s character, and Salge said he thinks Alana’s character is pivotal to the messages that students can take away from the film.

“I’m new here to W&L and still learning about the students and the culture, but I often see the characteristics of Alana around campus,” Salge said. “There’s a lot that that character can teach, including prioritizing self-compassion, accepting what is and letting go of the need for control and perfection.”

While the story is set in a high school and is relatable for young adults due to characters like Alana, its emotional weight is applicable to any age. 

Evan Hansen teaches audiences they should not be ashamed to reach out for help and that no one is ever alone. Everyone is carrying their own personal struggles, and sometimes understanding that common struggle can act as a uniting force. 

“The characters are faced with difficult decisions, which come with their own moral challenges and questions concerning identity,” Salge said. “That’s something that even adults can relate to.”