What Dear Evan Hansen’s Failure Means for the Future of Movie Musicals

What Dear Evan Hansen’s Failure Means for the Future of Movie Musicals

Leona Gagalac, Editor

As Broadway reopens, crowds are returning to theaters and the arts are coming back alive after a two-year hiatus, having audiences anticipating some of the best artistic work post-pandemic. Sometimes, shows and movies fall short of these expectations. Others cast 28-year-old men to play a 17-year-old high schooler. 


Dear Evan Hansen is the Tony-winning musical that has been performing in the Music Box Theater in New York since 2016, with a slated reopening date this December. The plot follows Evan Hansen, who suffers from social anxiety disorder. Following the suicide of Connor Murphy, a classmate that he never knew, he yeans to have a connection with people, so much so that he makes up a fake friendship with the classmate. With its overwhelming success in the theater community, the next step for producers Ben Pasek and Justin Paul was a movie. The story of acceptance, grief, and mental health made it a smash-hit on the stage, so audiences have been anticipating this release since its announcement, including myself. As a theater kid (yes, that theater kid), seeing the musical I’ve admired since middle school become a movie adaptation was exciting, but also daunting. A new version of the story made me question who would be casted and how the plot would translate into a movie. These concerns were later cemented in my mind in a negative light as it was announced that the titular character of Evan Hansen would be reprieved by Ben Platt, the man who originated the role back in 2016. At first, I thought “Hey, makes sense”, until I Googled his age. He is 28. With the precedent that shows like Riverdale set with their inappropriate age casting, the sense of optimism for the movie went down. 


When looking at the substance of the movie, it was average. It wasn’t the worst movie of the year, but it was far from the best. The infamous ballad sung by Evan Hansen, “Waving Through a Window”, is about the feeling of isolation and ostracization, yearning to belong. Ben Platt’s performance of the song was relatively the same as his stage interpretation, but what got me the most was right before the chorus. Before he sings the title of the song, guess where the film camera is. Yeah, through a window. Crazy symbolism, right? Sitting through the movie and having experienced the show in-person, it’s almost a scene-by-scene recreation of the Broadway production. This concurrent theme of a lack of risk makes the movie mediocre, leaving audiences questioning the purpose of the adaptation if it doesn’t stray away from the source material. Derived from the lack of risks, this is a primary factor that went into why Dear Evan Hansen ended up being a failure in the box office. 


For many movie musicals, a filmmaker’s usual options are either to rewrite the script to fit the new medium or simply do a pro-shot of the stage musical as is. A widely successful example of the latter is Hamilton, which had a successful opening weekend on Disney Plus, opposed to Dear Evan Hansen’s theatrical release, which left the movie running at a loss, unable to recoup their profits. With these two options at hand, it causes producers to stay away from adapting musicals into commercial movies. As an inaccessible art form due to inflated ticket prices, movies like Dear Evan Hansen who fail to hit the nail on the head perpetuates these barriers that might stop people from being able to experience theater. 

The assumption that audiences would consume and enjoy content just for the name is what ultimately caused Dear Evan Hansen to be the fail it was. Cinematic risk and adapting to the new medium is how to create a good movie musical, but this time around, it was not found in this movie. But hey, at least James Corden wasn’t in the cast.