The hit Broadway show "Dear Evan Hansen" has just recast two of its lead roles: Evan Hansen and Zoe Murphy. In the show, those two characters are teenagers: they are aged 17 and 16, respectively. The recast is such a big deal because...
Wait for it......
The replacements are teenagers!
That's right! Actual teenagers are playing teenagers!
Zoe Murphy, a junior in high school, is now portrayed by Mallory Bechtel, who is only 18 years old.
Evan Hansen, a senior in high school, is now portrayed by Andrew Feldman, who enters Broadway with a lead role at a whopping 16 years old.
16 years old. He is younger than his character.
This news is fantastic! It's about time more teenagers play teenagers on stage and in film. While you often need a degree in theatre or acting to make it onto such a prestigious stage, no one can capture teen angst and first love quite like those currently experiencing it.
The show is very teenager-heavy. Five out of the eight characters are teenagers! Serious issues are also themes of the show. The musical deals with depression, anxiety, absent parents, therapy, financial struggles, self-worth, and, most emphatically, suicide. Each teenage character deals with at least one of these, and they are seen most clearly in two characters: Evan and Connor.
Evan struggles with depression, anxiety, self-worth, financial difficulty, an absent father, and suicidal thoughts.
Connor lost the battle with depression and committed suicide.
Seeing Andrew Feldman deal with these issues on stage brings the message a little closer to home, almost unsettlingly close. He is a 16-year-old boy playing a 17-year-old boy on the verge of losing himself. When Feldman has to break down and sob and lash out on stage, the audience can understand Evan a little better. Because the actor is nearly the same age as his character, we might forget the difference.
Evan was originally played by Ben Platt, who started playing him at roughly 23. While that is not a terrible age gap, it is better a teenager play a teenager. You can impersonate a teenager, but after you leave those awkward years, it is just not the same.
Having a 16-year-old play Evan makes the audience believe it is real.
When you watch this teenager have a panic attack and relive his suicide attempt and fall in love and lose everything on that stage, you see every teenager in him. When he jumbles his words talking to his crush, you see yourself at that age. When Evan and his mother fight, you remember your disagreements with your parents. This is very real. This is happening.
When an actor is significantly older than his character, we tend to separate the two. Part of it is physical appearance. You can tell the difference between a 25-year-old and a 17-year-old. You see the biceps, the height, the filled out proportions, and the carefully shaved face and you remind yourself that he is in no danger. He is an adult, not a teenager, and he is just a character in a script. But when the actor and character are only a year apart, the line between reality and fiction is faint.
You want to reach out and hug him when he cries. After all, he's still a child. He has a baby face and an innocent smile and he's so small and gangling. He's so young, and he has his whole life ahead, and he has so much to live for and - oh.
So does Evan.
Now you understand. You watch this teenager nearly die on stage, and you realize the impact. He is a child. He has his whole life ahead of him. And then you understand the struggle the characters face, and you appreciate it. Everything is clear. They are on the same emotional level and in the same places in life. They are more alike than you would like to think.
You finally understand the character.
Having teen stars portray teen characters is the saving grace of "Dear Evan Hansen."