There is a lot to be said about Dear Evan Hansen; a musical view into mental health, a tell-all of social media, and society’s manipulation of traumatic events for personal gain. However, regardless of the complexities of my previous statement, Dear Evan Hansen is a musical that all should see, and in my opinion, rather a story that forces its viewers to confront emotional health, well-being, and surprisingly, forgiveness and understanding, in a way no other musical or story does. For me, this becomes all too clear in the powerful scene between Evan and his mom, Heidi, in the later half of the second act.
Written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, “So Big/So Small” is a beautiful song about how life has shaped Hiedi’s motherhood and her love for her son. The song begins as more of a transition, from Evan’s admission of mental health struggles to his mom to a quick silent pause and Heidi beginning to tell him a story. Soft guitar begins, and slowly, we are pulled deeper into the moment, into the very living room with them, and before we know it, are hanging on to every word, every second, and every emotion. The tension in the room is unreal as if the whole rest of the world is just quiet, no distractions, only honesty. The solo guitar and comfortable range of Heide’s voice coming into the song spark a pure and raw tone, which in turn reflects the intimacy of the story and is an indication to audiences that this will be something special.
Throughout Heide’s telling of how Evan’s father left the two of them, metaphors largely play a part in anchoring and grounding our emotions further within the song and scene and make us feel for Heidi and Evan in ways the rest of the musical does not and made me reflect on my relationship to my own mom, my childhood, and my upbringing. It’s heart-wrenching. Puts that pull in the bottom of your stomach. It’s powerful.
A U-Haul truck in the driveway
But you saw that truck
And you smiled so wide
A real live truck in your drivewaylyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Growing up, trucks were always a source of fascination, an oddity to the small barely battery-powered trucks and cars we would drive around in the front yard. Trucks marked for me my innocence, a curiosity for the world, and my desire to climb things that were bigger than me. To pair this innocence and personal connection with the reality of Evan’s dad abandoning him…. I’m heartbroken.
I will never forget how you sat up and said
“Is there another truck coming to our driveway?
A truck that will take mommy away”
There’s not another truck in the driveway
Your mom isn’t going anywhere
My childhood connection to trucks completely transformed into a whole new meaning, and for Evan too, trucks are no longer innocent but the loss of something no child should ever go through. No longer joy but something that could take his mom away from him. This line for me is where the emotions become too overwhelming, too present, too real, and is where Heide reminds me of my own mother; steadfast and always there.
Beautifully written within the structure of the truck metaphor, Pasek and Paul incorporate notions of feeling small in a world so big; feeling at our bottom while situations in our lives threaten to bury us, threaten to envelop our very existence; something in which I feel is all too common for people in today’s society and a choice that makes “So Big/So Small” resonate more broadly and loudly than ever.
Now it’s just me and my little guy
And the house felt so big, and I felt so small
The house felt so big, and I felt so small
Pasek and Paul’s use of metaphors and Julliane Moore’s incredible ability to deliver them through her performance of Heidi allow us to see Evan in a whole new way. It is Moore’s ability to change her voice inflection, create and play with such a raw tone that takes this song to another level. Viewers and, certainly me, at this moment learn to forgive Evan; we drop our guards, drop our moral prejudices and empathize with not only Evan but Heidi for her role as a hard-working single mother. For me, this song and this scene is a defining moment for Dear Evan Hansen and stands for why this is such an important musical for society and one which completely changed my entire perception of the musical as a whole.
Stephen Chbosky’s direction of camera shots and blocking makes audiences confront their emotions head-on. Confront the feeling of loss, the feeling of just being at our lowest, because there’s nothing to distract from it. No movement. Just sitting and embracing what is given to us makes this direction choice speak volumes. It’s almost like silence in music; the lack of sound is more impactful than the presence of sound. In this moment the lack of motion is more powerful than any motion could ever be. Throughout this scene, there are two camera angles, the main angle being a close-up of Heidi, and the second, the reaction of Evan to his mom’s personal experience of being left by her partner, without resources and help, and with a young now fatherless child. Tears flow from both sides of the screen and the scene ends with Evan embracing his mom.
This song and moment teaches so much about empathy, really making viewers think about where others are coming from, and meeting them at their lowest point; supporting them through it all. Society desperately needs more of this action, especially in a world where empathy and understanding get lost through social media and through our ever-busy lives. Dear Evan Hansen and “So Big/ So Small” also teaches us to forgive while encouraging us to love all no matter what. Bluntly, Evan conned a grieving family to gain what he felt like he lost in his own family. Yet, at this moment with his mother, sitting just the two of them, we forgive him, we forgive, and that’s what matters most and what I will remember most about this special musical.