DEAR EVAN HANSEN, Dear Steven Levenson

Dear Steven Levenson,

Congratulations on the news that your new musical DEAR EVAN HANSEN is coming to Broadway. I’m very happy for you and your collaborators, the extraordinarily talented Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

They have not let you or us down with their new score. The apotheosis comes with the song about the truck, one of the smartest ideas I’ve ever heard for a song – and I daresay that I’ve heard thousands upon thousands of musical theater songs.

I’m not saying more about “the truck song,” as I’m affectionately calling it, because I don’t want to spoil the surprise for those audiences that will be attending DEAR EVAN HANSEN in the fall. (This is, after all, an open letter.)

And there WILL be plenty of audiences … and yet, if I may cast my three electoral votes, you should address one issue that seems to have escaped you thus far.

You’re dealing with teen suicide and its aftermath. Larry and Zoe Murphy are devastated that their troublesome son Connor has killed himself. How they come to the conclusion that Evan Hansen was his best friend – one that Evan doesn’t have the heart to dispel – is an inspired idea, and one totally believable in the smart way you set it up.

The theme that a lie can grow out of proportion is superbly handled, too. And what a shame that as your show reaches its second, third or fourth year on Broadway that Ben Platt will eventually grow out of the role of Evan. The actor assigned to replace him sometime between 2017 and 2020 will find him a murderously tough act to follow.

So far, so great – but I will tell you one aspect of the show that didn’t ring true to me at all, and one I’d like to see you address.

Now of COURSE it’s always easy for someone else to “fix” another person’s show. But as playwright Jules Feiffer has long said, “The only changes I ever make are the ones a person says to me that make me smote myself on the forehead and say ‘Of course! He’s right! I’ve got to change that!’”

If indeed you wind up smoting yourself after you read this, fine; if, on the other hand, you later wish this open letter were on a piece of paper that you could throw into the shredder, so be it.

Sad to say, since 1993, I’ve known three sets of parents who have lost their sons to suicide. In two cases, both mother and father wound up asking everyone who’d been acquainted with their son what they knew and when they knew it. They interviewed anyone who had any contact with the kid – schoolmates, neighborhood friends, relatives, ANYBODY – all in hopes of finding out what made the boy finally take this drastic step.

In the other case, the father completely shut down and, to be frank, hasn’t yet recovered, although more than 20 years have passed. But the mother took the road of the other parents I’ve stated above. In her being unable to rest until she got at least some answers that enlightened her on why her son made the decision that he did, she actually made a timeline that revealed everything that her son did on that day and every place he’d been.

Larry and Zoe, however, don’t ask Evan these questions that those parents did: “You were his best friend! Did you see him that day? Was he overly depressed? Did he have a problem with a girlfriend? A boyfriend? Did someone in school say something that went directly to his heart? Did he hear from a teacher that he was flunking a course? Did he apply for a job he really wanted and didn’t get? Did he ever say that he had an inner voice telling him to do it?”

Your parents are much too eager to move on and make Evan their surrogate son. Don’t misunderstand: I have NO problem with their EVENTUALLY doing this – but only after they ask the salient questions that parents of suicides demand and want to know.

I’m not even saying that BOTH Larry and Zoe must ask these questions. Pick whichever one you feel is most likely to be the inquisitive one. Even if you have, say, the father start the questions and have the mother gently put her hand on his arm and say, “Honey, what good does it do to go over this? What’s done is done. We must move on. If there were anything we could do to bring him back, of course we’d do it, no matter what it was. But nothing can make him return, so we have no choice but to get on with our lives.”

(Frankly, I’ll bet that you could make those sentiments into substantially better dialogue than I did just now. You’re the one with the talent; if I had any, would I just be a critic?)

Look, even if you don’t make this change, I do predict a strong future for DEAR EVAN HANSEN. I commend you for getting so much correct in the writing the toughest thing in theater: an original book of a musical. I’d say you’re 98% there, and even if my suggestion doesn’t ring true, 98% is still an “A” where I went to school.