On Friday, my mom and I went to the Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel tour stop at Anderson’s Bookstore. This was way more than a book signing, it was a musical event! It was the perfect way for us to get a little taste of the musical since I got my mom tickets for us to see the show together in February for her 70th birthday!
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this tour. The info about the event said that there would be musical performances, but I was surprised by how many we got. I expected the show creators to play a tune or two, but it was much more than that!
They started the night off with a local high school choir performing one of the songs (I think it was “You Will Be Found” but I didn’t write it down, and I don’t remember for sure). I thought it was fantastic that they got a local high school involved with the event. They did a great job with the song, but more than that, their presence added something special to the night.
Then Kris Vire, a writer and theater critic for The Chicago Sun-Times, interviewed the guys for a bit. They went back and forth between song performances and interviewing, but I’m going to give you all the bullet points from the interview here.
- The musical started out being much more cynical than it ended up. It focused on the hypocrisy of people who react to a tragic death by making themselves out to be the person’s friend when they barely knew them. This happens often, especially with today’s focus on social media.
- But then they started to ask themselves, why do so many people feel the need to put themselves in the limelight in these sorts of situations.
- We are living in a time where we’re more connected than ever, but also more alone.
- So they asked, who is a person who would most need a connection, a community? And Evan Hansen was born.
- Why make the play into a novel?
- They were getting letters from people, especially teens, who had been affected by the play in some way. Kids who were dealing with mental health issues or suicide and connected to the show.
- They realize that a Broadway play is not accessible to everyone. They can only reach 1000-2000 people per night, and those are only people who live nearby and are able to afford a ticket to a Broadway show.
- They wanted to democratize the experience and give more people access to these messages, which had obviously struck a chord with a lot of people.
- How did they make it into a novel?
- They approached Val to write it. At first, he thought it was a crazy idea because the show is so popular—he didn’t think he could live up to that. (He called it a fool’s errand and said he’s glad he was foolish enough to try it.)
- Val worked closely with the show’s creators. At first he wrote larger passages and they would go through it and give notes, but by the end there was a lot of back and forth to tweak things (right down to single word changes sometimes).
- Benji and Justin said they were able to share some of their wisdom with Val so that he didn’t make some of the mistakes they’d made with the characters in early drafts.
- Adding Connor to the book:
- Val proposed adding Connor’s POV (we get his narration as he sees the events unfold as a sort of spirit).
- In the play, we only see the version of Connor that everyone else wants or needs—he never gets his own voice. But they decided to add his voice to the mix so that we could understand him better.
- The show creators had a full backstory for Connor but it couldn’t really go into the play because they needed the play to focus on Evan so that he’d be a sympathetic character. They saw an opportunity to expand on that in the book.
- Val mentioned that it was important to them to handle his character and his suicide with care.
In addition to the interviews, Val read the prologue, which is told from Connor’s POV. Since Val is an actor, it was a lot more engaging than your average reading. Other performances: Benji sang “Waving Through a Window,” Val sang “If I Could Tell Her,” Broadway performers Jessica Fontana, Marya Grandy and Alexis Roston sang “Requiem”, “So Big, So Small” (Yay!! My favorite!!) and “You Will Be Found.”
Overall, it was a pretty fantastic night. If you have a chance to see these guys on the book tour, I highly recommend that you go. It’s more than just a signing (though we did get pre-signed books), it’s a true event.
I’m about 60% through the book, by the way, and I’m really enjoying it. It’s pretty much exactly what I would expect based on the musical, and I love getting a deeper perspective into these characters!