This post is sponsored by the ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ team, but the opinions are my own.
When you have a theater kid, show tunes are the soundtrack of your life. As a former actor, I sang my toddler to sleep with a medley of tunes from Carousel, The King and I, and Oklahoma, which she later grew to call the “I love you” songs. We sang in unison to the Hairspray recording on the way to or from preschool. She was weaned on a diet of Sondheim, Schwartz, Rodgers, and Hammerstein, and I loved how much she loved the sounds of Broadway.
But as often happens, the student becomes the teacher, and as my daughter moved through her teenage years, she introduced me to new shows. By her senior year in high school, the cast recording of Dear Evan Hansen was part of her regular rotation. I caught bits and pieces of the music, mostly the show’s signature anthem, You Will Be Found, and, wrapped up in my own “mom of a senior” world, decided it must be a show “for teens.”
I was wrong.
Why Dear Evan Hansen is a show for parents and teens to experience together
A few years later, my daughter returned from a month’s study in England, newly twenty and with all the assurance of someone who had conquered a trip abroad. To celebrate, I got us tickets to see the Broadway tour of Dear Evan Hansen.
By this time, I had heard more of the music and latched onto what I saw as the show’s twin anthems of motherhood. Does Anybody Have A Map? made me wonder if the songwriting team of Pasek and Paul had been present at my house each morning as I had tried to get a teenager out the door while grabbing a moment of meaningful connection. The single mom anthem So Big So Small reminded me of my years as a solo parent.
Still, I was unprepared for the impact seeing this show with my child would have on me — indeed, on both of us.
When So Big So Small rolled around in Act 2, I came entirely apart, sniffling, crying, vainly looking for a tissue, and trying to stay composed as the actress playing Evan’s mom, Heidi, sang:
And I knew there would be moments that I’d miss
And I knew there would be space I couldn’t fill
And I knew I’d come up short a billion different ways
And I did
And I do
And I will
dear evan hansen, “So big so small”
“Stop it; you’re embarrassing yourself,” I thought as I heard every insecurity I’d ever had as a mom — mainly as a single mom — laid bare on the stage before me.
And then, I felt my daughter’s hand reach out, take mine, squeeze it, and all hope for my composure was lost.
Every immense feeling I’d ever had as a mom welled up inside of me as 20 years of parenting were distilled down to her hand holding mine — the way I had held hers so many times.
This moment remains one of the most powerful I’ve shared with my daughter in a theater, or really, anywhere. I had gone into the theater prepared to see a story about angsty teenagers and left realizing I’d seen a powerful testimonial to parenting and family, love, acceptance, and forgiveness.
Learn More About Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway
Interview with Dear Evan Hansen Broadway stars who play Evan and his mom, Heidi
This is one of the reasons I was delighted to be invited to speak to two of the current cast members of the Broadway company of Dear Evan Hansen, Zachary Noah Piser, who plays Evan, and Jessica Phillips, who plays his mom Heidi. We spoke about the power of parents and teens sharing this show, about the family experience it can indeed be.
As I spoke with Jessica and Zach from their respective dressing rooms before a performance, I was treated to an engaging and thought-provoking conversation about the show and why parents should consider seeing it with their teenagers and young adult children.
The content of Dear Evan Hansen isn’t straightforward, but it is crucially important —mental health, anxiety, suicide, honesty, and forgiveness. Zach hopes these critical topics will resonate with families, saying:
I hope this show can spur difficult conversations. Mental health is so hard to talk about, but the show allows families to be able to see someone else’s trauma played out in a fictional setting, and at the same time know they’re not alone.
Zachary Noah Piser – “Evan”
He recounted “being a teenager and holding on to things and not knowing how to process them,” but that “hopefully people will leave the theater seeing these people who went on an incredible journey and can create discourse out of tough conversations.”
When I mentioned the moment in the theater with my daughter and how much I had related to Heidi’s struggles as a single mom, Jessica said that when she was first introduced to the show, even before she was a part of the company, she “responded viscerally to how hard Heidi was working to do everything she possibly could to be a great mom — to support them financially and meet her son’s emotional needs.”
Just as I had felt that intense moment of connection when seeing the show, Jessica noted that “the text is crafted so that the audience can take away whatever relates best to their own lives and experience.” She added that Evan’s mom serves as an example of how as parents, we can “fail and make mistakes and yet have the grace to give ourselves the room to pick up the pieces, learn from our mistakes and grow forward.”
With mental health playing such a big part in the show, I shared my journey of raising a child with anxiety with Jessica and Zach. I felt so keenly how hard Heidi wanted to make things OK for Evan, remembering trying to just will it into my daughter to have a good day free from worry, a day when the phone wouldn’t ring or texts wouldn’t come saying, “I can’t do this.”
Considering the added stress of the past two years, Jessica noted there is value in,
acknowledging that we are in this together, that that feeling you have is normal, that we need to say to this entire generation of kids that…we are in this with you. The most valuable thing is knowing they are not alone. When they see how every teenager in this story feels like nobody sees them, how every character feels an outcast and all the parents are feeling helpless, they can take comfort in knowing ‘I’m not the only one who feels that way.’
Jessica Phillips “Heidi”
Not only will moms (and dads) find much to relate to in the parents of Dear Evan Hansen, and teens to Evan and the other young characters of the show, they may even understand each other a bit better. Reflecting on the emotional culminating final scenes between Evan and his mom, Zach hopes that…
teens come with their parents to see moments played out in a realistic way that may help them realize their parents falter and are human. They may even ask their parents, ‘have you ever felt that way before?’
Zachary Noah Piser – “Evan”
The moment in the theater when my daughter held my hand in hers brought us to a deeper understanding of the struggles we had both had while she was growing up. When, toward the end of the show, Heidi tells Evan, “You are the one good thing that has ever happened to me,” Jessica says she is reminded that we would be “hard-pressed to find any parent that doesn’t feel that being a parent is the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done.”
Ultimately Dear Evan Hansen ends with a message of hope and forgiveness, which Zach feels is essential — that message of “I see you, and it’ll get better, and it’s going to be ok,” something so vital for both teens and the parents who love them.
As Evan says, “You are Not Alone.”
Learn More About Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway
The author wants to thank the Dear Evan Hansen team, especially Jessica Phillips and Zachary Noah Piser, for their time and generosity in sharing their insights in this powerful piece.