Dear Ben Platt, Today is going to be a great day…
Ben Platt announced his final performance date for Dear Evan Hansen. And I’d be remiss if I let this moment pass without something to mark the occasion of this moment. So of course, I wrote a letter.
Dear Ben Platt,
Dear Evan Hansen came into my life on whim. It was an impulse, last minute purchase the 1st weekend of previews at Arena Stage on a night I was feeling particularly isolated and lonely in my life. You see the theater, musical theater in particular, has always been my church of choice, my personal sanctuary and my well of joy. As a theater goer (with little artistic talent) being an audience member is a sacred experience for me.
I came to this show on the heels of having been a part of the privileged group to see Hamilton before it became a zeitgeist and with the benefit of being able to tell Lin Manuel Miranda personally how moved, proud and thankful I was to him and all the artists involved in creating a show that reflected me, my family’s story in the fabric of our broader history. I didn’t have the same opportunity with you in person, so I felt the need to write it down.
I came to the show with little knowledge of its content, but with a pre-existing love of Pasek and Paul’s Dogfight. I sat in the first row, far right aisle seat of Arena Stage and over the course of the next 2 hours watched my soul’s truest pain, fear and healing unfold. In you, in this performance, I was overcome not by your extraordinary singing voice or the marveling of you physical embodiment of this character. I was overcome by the raw honesty that flowed from every breath you took on stage. Evan’s journey, his pain, and his path spoke to me in ways I spent weeks pondering as I unpacked my own experiences in the quiet of my own thoughts. As I saw the show a couple of more times in DC, this reflection opened up a path to forgiveness I hadn’t realized I’d been missing when reconciling my past.
Ultimately, to this day, I can barely think of the following lines without tears welling up in my eyes. Not just for their meaning and ability to speak to inner truth. But from the tangible memory of first seeing you stand starkly on a stage alone with all of us in the audience collectively holding our breath. As tears streamed down our faces and we watched an admission of truth so raw and transparent that it left me gutted well into the next scene. That first night, these were the lines that I left the theater with seared to my memory.
No I’d rather pretend I’m something better than
These broken parts
Pretend I’m something other than
This mess that I am
’Cause then I don’t have to look at it
And no one gets to look at it
No, no one can really see…
’Cause what if everyone saw?
What if everyone knew?
Would they like what they saw?
Or would they hate it too?
I wrote about Dear Evan Hansen the moment I saw it. I took others to see it along the way at Arena, at 2nd Stage and earlier this year on Broadway after it had taken the world by storm.
The first person I took was my then 9 year old daughter. We were lucky to be at Arena Stage on a night when there was a talk back (her 1st) and she even got to ask a question of all of you:
“I think the show is about learning to like yourself. What do you all like about your characters?”
After what had to be a long night, given the talk back, you still took the time to speak with with her outside the theater and graciously encouraged her to stay true to herself no matter what. I remember feeling so grateful that even in what had to be complete exhaustion you mustered up the energy to leave her feeling seen and heard in that two minute exchange. I can’t begin to imagine how many of those similar exchanges you’ve had over the last few years. What I can imagine is how those moments have altered more than just a moment in their lives. I know that because it is what your performance has achieved. Your embodiment of Evan Hansen gives voice and honors the things that make us look away from others and from the reflection in our mirrors. What a gift you’ve provided.
I am humbled by your ability and courage to bring this character to life 8 shows a week. I watched others discover this show, this performance with great satisfaction as a fandom was born and as a lifeline and connection was made across so many intersections that make us all human. The success and reach of the show so satisfying from the outside looking in. Particularly because I won’t ever forget how this show, your performance reminded me so viscerally that I wasn’t alone in a moment that I needed it affirmed.
I remember in a DC interview you were asked about why this show appealed to you and responded that it had been a dream to originate a character in a musical. In living out your dream, you’ve created a role that will live in my memory forever with the giddiness of knowing I will always get to say —
“I got to see Ben Platt play Evan in Dear Evan Hansen. “
I hope the next few months give you a fraction that emotional catharsis you’ve given audiences.
For me, that girl who often didn’t feel truly seen, for the woman who often feels inadequate as a parent, and for the person who finds community in the darkness of the audience of strangers in a theater, I simply want to humbly thank you Ben, from the bottom of my heart.