Content Warning: Spoilers for the musical “Dear Evan Hansen” are ahead. In this musical, a character takes their own life, which prompts the majority of the action in the story. The musical also deals with a lot of other heavy issues that may be upsetting for some people, so read at your own risk.
A little while back, some friends and I watched a live production of “Dear Evan Hansen.” I went into the theatre with some trepidation. Although I love musicals, I heard a lot of conflicting information about the story and the characters that made me question what kind of story I was about to watch unfold.
For those unfamiliar, the story goes something like this: Evan Hansen is a young man in high school who suffers from severe social anxiety. Evan writes a vague, gloomy letter to himself about how everything is terrible and how the only person who could possibly make him happy is Zoe Murphy, a pretty girl at school. Connor Murphy, Zoe’s troubled brother, and Evan’s classmate, takes the letter and several days later, commits suicide. Connor’s family is under the mistaken assumption that Evan and Connor were close friends, and Evan goes along with this falsehood, mostly out of pity for the grieving family. This lie grows and becomes out of control, but Evan enjoys the newfound attention, especially from the Murphy family, who treat him like a new son/son-in-law. Eventually, everything begins to spiral out of control and Evan, to his great shame, is forced to come clean to the Murphys.
The musical touches on many serious issues like mental health, loneliness, complicated family relationships, and suicide. It also touches on another topic I hadn’t expected to consider: the parasocial relationships people form with the recently deceased.
Before Connor Murphy’s unfortunate end, we see he is a lonely, troubled person in deep pain who inflicts suffering on others. He regularly fought with his family and seemed to be abusive to Zoe. He has no friends, and when he commits suicide, his family and Evan Hansen are the only people personally affected by his decision. However, despite not knowing him very well, other people in his school are affected by his death.
One student, in particular, is Alana Beck, a passionate and dedicated young woman Despite her impressive extracurriculars, Alana is lonely, anxious, and depressed. She wonders if anyone would miss her if she disappeared. Connor’s story resonates with her, and she decides to use this tragedy to reach out to other people so they won’t feel so alone.
I went into the musical expecting to hate Evan Hansen. I’ve heard the take that “Dear Evan Hansen” is a musical told from the “villain’s perspective,” and by the time he sang, “You Will Be Found,” I was mentally sorting that into my “villain origin story” file.
Evan Hansen’s actions are pretty heinous. Let’s state the obvious: using a stranger’s tragedy for social gain is not okay. Evan Hansen is caught in a complicated situation and doesn’t know how to escape it, especially when the benefits of lying about his friendship with Connor seem to outweigh the consequences vastly. However, after the initial awkward meeting, he should have been honest with the Murphys and explained that he had no connection to Connor. It would have been a difficult conversation, but it was necessary to spare them prolonged pain.
Though as the story played out, I couldn’t help but feel a little bad for Evan. He screwed up, but his intentions weren’t entirely self-motivated. He saw a family going through a crisis and didn’t want to make the situation worse with the truth. I didn’t like him, but I could relate to feeling stuck in an awkward situation and not knowing how to get out of it.
My situation was a little different – I accidentally told an uber driver that I was excited to return home from a trip and see my “baby,” and he thought I meant a human baby. I did not mean a human baby. My “baby” was my dog, who I was very excited to see but probably should not have used another word for “infant” to describe her. Because I called her my baby, the driver started asking me questions about my child, and to my mortification, I went along with the ruse for the entirety of the drive to the airport. There is a man in the San Diego area who thinks I am a single mother to a toddler named Daphne, and I would die of embarrassment if he ever learned the truth.
So yeah, if I was caught in a situation like Evan Hansen, I’d probably panic and do the wrong thing, then feel terrible about it, and then come clean to try and prevent things from worsening. Evan does spend a lot of time feeling bad about what he’s done, but that doesn’t stop him from getting more involved. On some level, he shows genuine concern for the emotional well-being of the Murphys, even if what he does is messed up. Kudos for trying, I guess?
Unfortunately, his actions also mean that the Murphys don’t have the opportunity to grieve the loss of the real Connor. The song “Requiem” briefly touches on the Murphys’ complex feelings for Connor, but they’re denied the opportunity to truly reflect on who Connor was and what his absence means for the family. That was unfair of Evan.
Alana Beck has a different reaction to Connor’s suicide. Despite having a tenuous connection to Connor, she sees herself in his story. Or rather, Alana sees herself in how she interprets Connor’s story. Despite being chem lab partners and doing a single report on Huck Finn together, she knows nothing about him except that he was “alone,” like her. When the school begins to move past its shock and curiosity regarding Connor, Alana is panicked. She is distraught at the possibility that people will forget him. And from this point, it becomes clear that she’s projecting her own fears and anxieties onto this tragedy.
Alana is an interesting character. She has decent intentions. She goes out of her way to help Evan create “The Connor Project,” a memorial project dedicated to keeping Connor’s memory alive and raising money to reopen an apple orchard she thinks Connor loved. The Murphys are on board with the idea of this project, as they want to keep their son’s memory alive.
The musical does clarify that the Connor Project website has some mental health resources for people who need them, but that’s only part of the website. It’s also a memorial of sorts to Connor’s fake memory, as it’s full of blog posts about Connor’s life and the “secret” e-mail correspondence between Connor and Evan (all of which was fabricated by Evan).
It’s repulsive. I cannot begin to tell you how much I hated the idea of “The Connor Project.” I found this project so blatantly exploitative that I’m angry even as I write this. This project transformed Connor from a troubled enigma into a tool that could be molded and paraded around for other people’s purposes.
Here’s something that I believe: although most people have good intentions, they also love to be spectators to a tragedy. People love a good story, be it happy or sad or enraging, and hearing these stories allows these people to play tourist to something exciting. Terrible events, like the loss of a classmate, are a disruption that creates endless opportunities for conversation, speculation, and sometimes companionship. For the people directly affected by these events, it can be horribly traumatic and leave a gaping wound in their lives. For those unconnected but still interested, vicariously living through this terrible tragedy can be a cathartic experience. It allows them to experience this range of emotions without living with the consequences of that experience.
A lot of us could plead guilty to playing tourist in someone else’s life. Sometimes that person makes it easy, like if they post about their entire experience on social media. And it’s not always a bad thing – people do need support, and it is possible to create deep and lasting bonds through the people you meet after a bad experience.
Alana Beck is a prime example of a tourist who repeatedly crosses the line from well-intentioned to extremely inappropriate and inconsiderate. She regularly encourages Evan to post details from his and Connor’s “private friendship” on a public website that can be viewed by millions of people. Despite not knowing Connor, Alana feels comfortable creating the Connor Project and encouraging his family to become involved. She has the idea to create a $50,000 Kickstarter to restore an apple orchard, which is an absurd amount of money to ask from people online. And yes, while it’s nice that the money will go to restore a landmark in their small town and help keep Connor’s false memory alive, that money could have easily gone to an organization dedicated to helping teens with mental illness.
Every time Alana spoke about the project, I doubted her motives for getting so involved. She struck me as the kind of person who would continue to use her involvement in The Connor Project as a means for social status and career advancement. In the musical, Jared Kleinman, Evan’s not-quite-friend, suggests that “Connor’s suicide was the best thing to ever happen to Evan.” Jared isn’t wrong in his assessment of Evan, though I felt the same could easily be said about Alana.
Connor’s suicide gave Alana recognition and purpose that extended far beyond her existing relationship with Connor. Something tells me that she definitely wrote about her involvement in the Connor Project as part of a college application essay or at least for a scholarship.
One of Alana’s last acts in the musical was to share Connor’s “suicide note” on the website. By this point in the story, she has begun to suspect that Evan and Connor were never really friends, and Evan wants to get her off his back. He shows her the suicide note to explain why Connor was getting worse despite his awesome fake friendship with Evan. Alana sees the suicide note as an opportunity to get people reinvested in Connor’s story. She shares Connor’s suicide note with the world in an attempt to get people to donate to their Kickstarter, which is successful but has the unfortunate side effect of making the Murphys a target for online harassment.
Ya’ll, I really hope you don’t need to hear this, but just in case, I’ll spell it out for you: sharing a private document like a suicide note online is super fucked. Do not ever do this.
After this moment, she pretty much disappears from the musical. We see the Murphys deal with the onslaught of trolling and harassment as they are unfairly blamed for Connor’s suicide. The briefly harmonious Murphys begin to fight bitterly with each other, and Evan feels compelled to come clean. He explains that the “suicide note” found with Connor was actually a letter he wrote to himself. In the sad song “Words Fail,” he explains why he went along with the lie for so long while sharing his shame and regret at hurting the Murphy family.
Evan’s regret does not excuse his actions. However, by the end of the musical, we see that he is doing what he can to atone for his mistakes. He leaves the Murphys alone so that they can properly sort through their grief. Instead of running off to college to reinvent himself, he spends the year at community college. He works to save up money so that he can eventually afford to transfer to a four-year university.
Most importantly, Evan Hansen feels for what he did. Zoe eventually comes to forgive him and encourages him to forgive himself. And we get the feeling that even if things didn’t work out this time, Evan won’t repeat his past mistakes, and he’ll learn to be a better person.
Alana doesn’t have that journey. She doesn’t sing to the Murphys about how sorry she is that everyone on the Internet suddenly hates them. She doesn’t reflect on her actions and how she’s hurt other people. Instead, she spends the majority of the musical internalizing Connor’s tragedy as her own, and then single-mindedly pursuing her goals regardless of how that might impact other people.
Alana is an instigator. She means well, but her actions directly hurt people, and we never see her face repercussions for what she’s done.
I’ve heard that in the film version, Alana does express regret for posting Connor’s suicide letter. For all I know, in the film version of “Dear Evan Hansen,” she’s a better person who cares about other people. Except the thing is, I don’t want to watch the “Dear Evan Hansen” movie. At all. Not just because I’ve heard it’s absolutely atrocious, like in this hilarious full-length breakdown by Jenny Nicholson.
I don’t want to watch the film version of “Dear Evan Hansen” because I’m not even sure how much I liked the musical. I thought the songs were beautiful and appreciated the first half of the story, but it’s not easy to watch. It’s unclear if anyone is better off by the end of the story. Maybe Evan is a little more confident, and the Murphys seem to be getting along, so that’s nice. And there’s an apple orchard people can visit, so good for them, but other than that, there’s a strange hollowness to the end of the story. Like I wonder what happened once Alana’s Kickstarter was successful. Was she finally happy? Or did she need to find another project to keep herself distracted from her loneliness?
If you can see “Dear Evan Hansen” on stage, I’m not sure if I recommend it. While the songs are beautiful, and there are a few light-hearted moments, it may also drag up unpleasant feelings. The most energetic number in the show is probably “Sincerely Me,” which is a grotesque and darkly comic retelling of Connor and Evan’s fake friendship. The funniest moments in the show are often in the form of crude and homophobic jokes from Jared Kleinman. It’s not exactly a story that will make you feel better after its conclusion.
Most of all, I am somewhat worried that people who watch “Dear Evan Hansen” may walk away with the mistaken assumption that Alana’s actions were justified or appropriate and then feel validated regarding their own parasocial relationships. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that there is a difference between “forgetting someone” and “moving on,” and a difference between being helpful and being a tourist.
3 thoughts on “Alana Beck is the Real Villain in “Dear Evan Hansen””
div dir=”ltr”>Thomas Fil, CPA Retired
– As you know, I do not like musicals… but I have heard of this one!
– HAHAHA omg baby Daphne
– I am purely disgusted she posted the note. That is beyond reproach… no words
I couldn’t have said this better! This is spot on! I did love the show when I saw it on Broadway (with Ben Platt who was spectacular) but I love how you’ve put my thoughts into words, now that some time has gone by, and I have had time to really consider the plot and characters.