Come From Away and Dear Evan Hansen: The Rare Real Side of Life in Theater
Many people think that theater is an escape. So often, it takes us into another world for several hours where we can escape and have a good time, forgetting about many of the problems that persist in the world today. Two of the most notable exceptions to that however are Come From Away and Dear Evan Hansen.
Come From Away has been described by The New York Times as sounding 'like a show that most New Yorkers would run a city-mile to avoid'. 9/11 changed the outlook of the world on many different things. And, the event caused massive suffering as many had to learn that their loved ones had died. But away from New York City, away from the burning buildings, at the same time, people from all over the world were being welcomed to Gander, Newfoundland as if they belonged there. Irene Sankoff and David Hein's moving musical allows the people in New York, the people closest to the horrific events of that day, see care and kindness then.
Dear Evan Hansen, inspired by an event that happened at Benj Pasek's high school tells the story of Evan Hansen as he gets caught up in a lie about Connor, one of his classmates who commited suicide and the events that follow as Connor's former classmates get involved in the spiral of lies that occurs after his death.
Both Come From Away and Dear Evan Hansen are rooted in things that happen in real life. And this is very rare to find in theater for the most part.
Come From Away approaches the story of 9/11 with great caution. One of the most moving parts of the show is when Kendra Kassebaum's character, Janice, says "I didn't even realize, they hadn't seen it yet". This is of course in reference to how the plane people hadn't learned why they were in Gander and not where they were supposed to be.
And in Dear Evan Hansen, Evan talk about "falling in a forest" which is in reference to his attempted suicide, a fact that many super-fans gloss over, and brings you into the reality that teenage suicide is something that can happen and sometimes does.
Many of the shows seen on Broadway are nowhere near as emotional, or connected to how harsh our reality can be. Often there are fairy tales, comedies, based off books, and are stories with happy endings. Not to say that Come From Away doesn't have happiness at the end of the show, but along with Dear Evan Hansen, both are grounded in reality.
The end of Dear Evan Hansen shows the repercussions that come from lying and more specifically, how those lies affected the people around Evan, as well as the consequences it had for him. On the opposite side of the spectrum, at the end of Come From Away, in the "Finale" Joel Hatch's character, Claude, says "Tonight we honor what was lost, but we also commemorate what we found". This is a reminder of the tragic events of 9/11, as is the song "Something's Missing", which shows the effect of 9/11 on each person, their lives, and happiness in the days following their return from Gander.
Other shows, including Bandstand also show real life, in this case, when the boys returned home from World War II. Or Beautiful, which shows the life of Carole King. But real life is rare to find in theater and when it is as present as it is in Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away, it not only creates a beautiful piece of art, but a reminder for everyone who sees it about the things that happen in our world. While other shows may be based off real life events, few shows show it in such a well-thought manner and touching way, that causes the viewer to leave the theater with the same level of respect and awe for what happened on those stages.