With every Broadway opening night, dreams are coming true for dozens of people involved in bringing a show to life. For the ones who have been involved with the project from the beginning—the writers and lead producers—an opening is the culmination of years of hard work. In the case of Dear Evan Hansen, which just opened on Sunday at the Music Box Theatre, producer Stacey Mindich has been with the show ever since she had lunch with composer-lyricist team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul eight years ago.
At the time, Pasek and Paul were just 24 years old, but even then, Mindich was “stunned,” in her words, by their promise and their talent. “Whatever they said they wanted to do, I would have done,” she said. Over lunch, the two told her a story about an event that happened to Pasek in high school, and the story became the basis for Dear Evan Hansen. And while the show grew and changed over the past eight years, Mindich believes that the emotions it sparked have remained consistent from that first lunch meeting to Sunday’s opening night.
“We’re creating a very modern piece about connections in this day and age when you feel like you might have so many through social media, but which ones are the authentic ones, and who do you really communicate with?” Mindich asked rhetorically. “It spoke to me, even though we’re different generations, and it’s become a mission for all three of us.”
As Pasek and Paul began writing their score, Mindich began creating a family for Evan Hansen, helping the composers find the right members for the team to bring the show to life. Steven Levenson signed on to write the book, Tony-winning Hamilton vet Alex Lacamoire was tapped to orchestrate, and Tony-nominee Michael Greif signed on to direct. The set was designed by David Korins, and Peter Nigrini created the projection design.
While organizing a top-notch team is part of a producer’s job, Mindich felt that her own experiences as a mother helped her build not just a team, but a family. “I’m making sure that after all these years, every family member feels appreciated, and every parent has been recognized.”
Each member of the family, Mindich said, has contributed something valuable to the show. “Even the interns—these college kids in my office add value because this story is speaking to all of us, and it makes us want to work harder and care more,” she said.
Dear Evan Hansen premiered at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage in the summer of 2015, and the response was decidedly positive. “Some people might have moved it right away, but I’m cautious and Broadway is complex, and I put together a team of absolute perfectionists, and we knew there was more work to be done.” The team already had relationships with off-Broadway’s Second Stage Theater, so the decision to delay a Broadway transfer to continue growing off-Broadway was “organic.” “We had to be sure we could perfect the story and see how New York audiences would greet us there,” Mindich said of the early-2016 Second Stage run. “It was a great part of our journey to go there.” Following the Second Stage run in the spring, the show was ready for Broadway.
Mindich says Dear Evan Hansen is ultimately about a lonely person trying to find a connection. “It’s about parents and children, and I think if you’re a parent or a child—so that’s all of us—then there’s something for you in this show.” While she had initially expected the young creative team to attract a millennial audience, Mindich was surprised to see a wide range of people not only coming to see the show, but coming back. “Young people were coming and then coming back with their parents,” she said of the Arena Stage crowd, “or older subscribers were coming back with their nieces, nephews, and children.”
The creative team, she said, has “artfully managed” to have a piece of art that speaks to young and old. “Everyone can look at Evan Hansen and think, ‘Who is he? Maybe he’s my son. Maybe he’s my neighbor. Maybe he’s me,'” Mindich said. In a move to bring younger audiences—and families in particular—to the theater, the marketing team behind the show is creating a study guide for parents and kids alike. “Hopefully, kids and parents can use that to start conversations.”
With the eight-year journey to a Broadway opening coming to an end on Sunday, Mindich acknowledges that she is “very emotional” to see her labor of love reach Broadway. “It’s been the joy of my career to watch this show develop and to work with both young, talented artists and some veterans of our industry as well.”
Photograph by Matthew Murphy