Billboard on Broadway Podcast: 'Dear Evan Hansen' Tony Nominees Talk Making a Momentous Musical

Ben Platt and Rachel Bay Jones in “Dear Evan Hansen."
Matthew Murphy

Ben Platt and Rachel Bay Jones in “Dear Evan Hansen."

Ever since it premiered off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre in the spring of 2016, the new musical Dear Evan Hansen has garnered breathless reviews for its outstanding contemporary score, cast of standout performers, and alternately heartbreaking and hilarious story.  Now nominated for nine Tony awards in its Broadway run (and considered likely to take home several), it’s one of the hottest tickets of the current season. In advance of the awards ceremony on June 11, four of the show’s nominees -- composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and cast members Rachel Bay Jones and Mike Faist -- visited the Billboard on Broadway podcast to discuss the show’s creation and what it’s like to perform every night.

“This was a show we wanted to write even in college, when we first met each other,” says Pasek. “We were really taken by how communities, especially in high school, respond to grief, and how people want to insert themselves into tragedies they might not have a place in.”

Initially, Paul says, the duo took a more cynical view on their generation’s and society’s relationship to social media and processing grief, “but we found, first of all, that it’s not that fun or engaging to write parody song or cynical song after song -- that does not a musical make, for characters with heart and true emotion.” As they began to work with book writer Steven Levenson, “we approached it with more empathy.”

As Faist and Jones relate, it was evident from early table reads that the show would be a singular experience for all involved. “It was like, ‘Okay, this is special, this is it, this is the thing,’” Faist recalls. “I’ve never experienced walking into a room and reading something cold and having it be so gripping.”

Jones adds, "As an actor and as a singer, you look for writers that can speak for you, and that you can embody their voice too. I’ve always felt in safe hands with these wonderful young men who are so deep and so profound.”

In their chat with host Rebecca Milzoff, the foursome go on to discuss Pasek and Paul’s pop influences and approach to contemporary songwriting, translating flawed and awkward characters into a musical context, and their ideas on why the show is so universally appealing. Listen to their full discussion on this week’s Billboard on Broadway podcast.

Dear Evan Hansen is currently playing at the Music Box Theatre.

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