Ben Platt and Co-stars on Bringing Dear Evan Hansen from Stage to Screen
By: Ellis Nassour
September 23, 2021: Bringing the Tony-winning, generation-defining Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen (Universal Studios; two hours and 17 minutes [which includes the credit crawl] from stage to screen was a long-time dream of Tony, Grammy and Emmy winner Ben Platt, who in one of those rare occasions gets to reprise his critically-acclaimed performance for the movie. It must have been the same for the Oscar, Grammy and Tony-winning composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land, The Greatest Showman) and Tony-winning book writer Steven Levenson, who, thankfully for the most part, got to do the screenplay. With the reviews and sold-out performances, it must have not have been a matter of when, but how soon.
It would have been nice to have this film two years ago, but the show was still selling out right up to the pandemic-mandated closing – box office was certainly helped by the number of young people who came to experience the musicals three, four, five, or more times. Dear Evan Hansen was probably the first show since Rent with that sort of loyal fan base. The Broadway musical will resume performances on December 11.
Dear Evan Hansen stars Oscar winner Julianne Moore as Evan’s mother, Kaitlyn Dever as Connor’s sister Zoe, six-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams as their mother. Danny Pino (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) as Zoe’s father and Connor’s step-father, Nik Dodani as Evan’s family friend Jared, Amandla Stenberg as the depressed but super active student organizer, and , Colton Ryan as Connor.
Platt, minus a few pounds and with his curly hair all gown out, looks great, though in one particular very tight close up he does come off a bit harsh. In some scenes, note Platt wears his very broken in New Balance shoes he wore onstage. Fans won’t be disappointed, and neither will those millions out there who’ve never seen the musical and have nothing to compare it to – not that is should be compared. However, when a show is this beloved, comparison can be guaranteed.
Evan Hansen had been an integral part of Ben Platt’s world for more than six years, so transitioning from stage to screen, which isn’t always easy, he had some challenges. One, for him and Chbosky was keeping the intimacy of the play. After hundreds of performances onstage, Platt manages to tamp things down. While it’s not a brand new Evan, he has embraced the role anew and given it more nuance.
“The real battle, challenge, and fun of it was to listen to all of those instincts,” says Platt, “and recall all those physicalizations and muscle memory intuitions. I had to learn how to listen to the combating voice to be spontaneous, honest and new — something that’s demodulated enough to work on screen, that’s closer to the ground but still has the essence of the character that I created in the show. In the scenes with Julianne, she really brought me close to the ground so I could find that character again.
“Since I grew to love Evan and the story so much,” he continues, “it was a privilege to step up and go all the way to the finish line with him. It was a unique experience to create something onstage and then translate it. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that opportunity again.”
Chbosky had never seen Platt perform Evan onstage. “I was witnessing with fresh eyes what he did every day on set for two months as if I was seeing Ben on opening night. It was amazing discovering his superlative talent. I had no pre-conceived notions or expectations. Ben said that was very liberating, that it lifted a heavy burden from him.”
Platt explained that Chbosky treated him as a collaborator and partner. “Steven involved me in all major decisions. He understood that this is a character that is close to my heart. When we had a particularly difficult song or scene, he’d ask when we should cover it. I appreciated his trust and how he allowed me to voice what I needed to make something happen.”
Dear Evan Hansen onstage was also a learning experience for Platt, “I’d had never been involved with the development of a musical as extensively as I was Dear Evan Hansen. In terms of modern musicals, I don’t know of one in which the book and the music are quite so seamless. Watching Steven (Levenson) maintain his own voice, and at the same time shape the vernacular to Benj and Justin’s songs, and make it feel so organic, was impressive and inspiring. As an actor, it made it much easier and much more fruitful because you don’t have to switch languages when you start to sing. It’s all one language and point of view.”
Adam Siegel, co-producer with Platt’s father Marc has known Ben since Platt was six. “Having seen him grow,” he said, “I had zero doubt of his ability to adapt Evan for the screen. Ben has such an incredible warmth, but there’s always been this iron and determination in him — this ability to be completely vulnerable. He has a strong sense of purpose. He loves to sing and act. As vulnerable as he is, there’s an inner strength there, and it’s a contrast between that which makes him so compelling as an actor.”
“Every song in a musical performs a very specific function that is integral to character, narrative and staging,” lead producer Platt says. “But what works onstage doesn’t necessarily work on film and vice-versa.”
Those that have been deleted are: “Anybody Have a Map?”, “Disappear,” “To Break in a Glove,” and, surprisingly, “Good for You.”
These songs, many popular the world over and some that fans know every word, key change and glissando by heart, are in the film:, has, needless to say, has been retained along with “If I Could Tell Her,” “Waving Through a Window,” “For Forever,” “Only Us,” “Sincerely, Me,” “Words Fail,” “So Big/So Small,” and the Act One finale anthem “You Will Be Found.” One of the musical highlights of the film is Amy Adams’ memorable rendition of “Requiem.”
The new songs are Pasek and Paul’s “A Little Closer, performed by Ryan; and “The Anonymous Ones,” performed by Stenberg, co-written with Pasek and Paul.
A couple of the major featured roles come off lacking the humor they had onstage. There’s an old saying that it’s not a musical unless there’s choreography. Dear Evan Hansen proved that needn’t be. Film adaptators always feel the need to open things up, even add choreography where none is needed – especially not any that jumps jarringly out at you. The ending, though moving, doesn’t have the dramatic heft of the musical’s finale. One plus is that director Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Wonder) has kept the essence of Peter Nigrini’s projections, so powerful in the musical.
Visit Ben Platt Official Store, www.benplattmusic,com for a variety of merchandise. For Ben Platt music, there’s the original Dear Evan HansenBroadway cast album, his latest CD Reverie, and his 2019 vinyl LP Sing to Me Instead. For tickets to the cross-country Reverie tour, beginning February 23 in Orlando, visit www.TicketMaster.com. VIP Experience packages are available. Stops include Atlanta, Boston, New York (March 6, Madison Square Garden), Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, Houston, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.