3 Ways the Dear Evan Hansen Movie Lives Up to the Original Musical and 2 Ways It Falls Short
Adapting a beloved musical for the screen is never an easy feat, and the Dear Evan Hansen movie is clear proof of that. After opening on Broadway in 2016, the musical quickly gained critical acclaim for its music and cast performances, raking in countless awards, including best musical at the Tony Awards. So, when it was announced that Universal Pictures would be adapting the show as a movie, longtime fans wondered how it would translate on the big screen. While the film stays true to the musical in many different ways, it also makes a few adjustments here and there. There are some minor tweaks to various characters, but one of the biggest differences is the soundtrack. Now that the film is out in theaters, read ahead to see how it compares to the original musical.
Connor Plays Less of a Role in the Story
Even though Connor dies at the beginning of the story, the character actually plays a central role in the musical, often acting as Evan's conscience in various scenes, including the performance of "Disappear." Since some of those Connor-centric songs have been cut from the movie soundtrack, Connor doesn't have too much screen time in the film.
Why it hurts the adaptation: Through various musical performances and bits of dialogue in the musical, you really develop an emotional connection to Connor as the storyline progresses. However, with Connor's big moments being cut from the movie, that emotional connection is severely lacking by the time the film ends. It's not until the very end of the film that we finally begin to learn more about Connor, and by that point, the credits are already rolling. Mike Faist was such a charismatic force as Connor in the original production, and I wanted to see the movie adaptation use Colton Ryan's talents in the same way.
Some Characters' Storylines Have Been Altered
A handful of characters have slightly different backstories in the movie adaptation. In the movie, Zoe and Connor's father, Larry, is actually their stepfather, and their birth father died when they were very young. The character of Jared is also gay in the movie and his name has been changed from Jared Kleinman to Jared Kalwani to reflect actor Nik Dodani's Indian heritage. Additionally, the character of Alana has been significantly expanded, as she develops a close friendship with Evan in the movie.
Why it helps the adaptation: I was hesitant when I first learned that Connor and Zoe's dad would be their stepdad, but after watching the movie, it actually fits the story perfectly. The way Larry struggles to confront Connor's death takes on a new meaning as we learn how he tried especially hard to be a father figure for Connor without taking the place of his birth father. It even gives Connor more of a backstory, as his mother notes how he grappled with his birth father's death a lot growing up. I also loved how the movie utilizes Jared and Alana more. Since the two have less significant roles in the musical, giving them more fleshed-out backstories in the movie only added to the overall narrative.
Various Songs Have Been Cut
For the most part, the Dear Evan Hansen movie soundtrack is the same as the original musical's. In fact, the cast actually performed the songs live to give it that extra-musical feel. However, four big songs were cut from the film — "Anybody Have a Map?," "Disappear," "To Break In a Glove," and "Good For You" — with two new songs being added in their place: "The Anonymous Ones" by Amandla Stenberg and "A Little Closer" by Colton Ryan.
Why it hurts the adaptation: If you're not a fan of the original musical, the adjustment to the song list isn't that jarring. However, I was immediately taken aback when the beginning of the movie jumped right into "Waving Through a Window" instead of "Anybody Have a Map?" After all, the latter helps set up Evan's and Connor's stories. I was also sad that "Disappear" and "To Break In a Glove" didn't make the cut, since they are both standout songs for Connor and Larry, who otherwise don't get too much screen time in the movie. Fans of the original will be happy to know that "Good For You" does make a subtle appearance in the movie, as an instrumental version plays in various scenes.
There Are Flashbacks
As the audience learns how Evan broke his arm, the film uses flashbacks to paint the picture. First, the flashbacks show Evan happily climbing up a tree to see the skyline, but toward the end of the film, when Evan sings "Words Fail," things take a darker turn, as we learn he actually jumped off the tree rather than fell.
Why it helps the adaptation: Since the musical uses linear storytelling, Evan's fall is detailed in past tense through song or dialogue. However, the movie is able to expand on that moment by actually showing what happened. The scene is even more emotional in the movie since it's intertwined with Evan's performance of "Words Fail," which is undoubtedly the most dramatic performance of the entire show.
The Ending Has Been Expanded
Over the years, one of the biggest criticisms of Dear Evan Hansen has been Evan's flawed motives and choices throughout the story, and the movie attempts to address that with a new ending. In the musical, Evan's secret about pretending to be Connor's friend never comes out, but in the movie, Evan actually confesses to everything in a recorded video that he shares to social media. He also attempts to learn more about Connor by reaching out to various people who knew him when he was alive. He eventually connects with someone who shares a beautiful song Connor wrote when he was in rehab. Instead of closing with "Finale," aka a reprise of "For Forever," the film ends with a reprise of Connor's song.
Why it hurts the adaptation: While I appreciate that the film holds Evan somewhat accountable for his actions in the end, the movie ending just doesn't have the same emotional punch. I fully expected to be sobbing by the end of the movie, but when the credits started rolling, I was just left wondering, "That's it?" I think a large part of this is due to the fact that the movie doesn't end with "Finale." The song just ties the whole story together, whereas ending on "A Little Closer" feels slightly disjointed.