By Cami Hancock
As the second act draws to a close, the ensemble of Dear Evan Hansen sings out, “You will be found.” These words are the anthem of not only Dear Evan Hansen, but also of Wharton Center’s 2019-2020 season, which emphasizes inclusion and finding your place in the world.
Since it opened on Broadway in 2016, Dear Evan Hansen has gained popularity, particularly among young people. Much of that can be attributed to the fact that Dear Evan Hansen draws on the universal experience of feeling alone. It’s something that everyone has faced, whether it be while trying to navigate the scary world of high school, moving to a new city after college graduation, or experiencing the loss of a loved one. That feeling of loneliness is isolating, and it leads people to believe they’re the only ones experiencing it. What Dear Evan Hansen proves to audiences is that they’re not actually alone. While watching the show, it’s very apparent that 17-year-old high school senior, Evan, experiences those feelings, but it’s also something that each of the characters experiences and that ultimately connects them. The show also demonstrates how the presence of social media has only amplified the feelings of loneliness and isolation for many. The parallels between Dear Evan Hansen’s characters’ experiences and real-life experiences are resonating with audiences. It’s easy to see yourself in the show, and that’s what makes Dear Evan Hansen extremely powerful.
Dear Evan Hansen isn’t the only show that reflects this season’s theme of finding your place. Wharton Center also welcomes Wicked and Come From Away, two shows that ultimately demonstrate that the feeling of belonging can be tied to not only a place, but also to other people. Wicked’s leading ladies, Elphaba and Glinda, experience feelings of isolation. Neither girl feels truly seen until the two unlikely friends befriend each other.
Come From Away tells the true story of 38 planes that were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, on 9-11. For three days, 7,000 passengers were stranded in Gander, nearly doubling its population. Although the situation could easily have created mass chaos, the people of Gander accepted the passengers with open arms and demonstrated unfaltering kindness. Even in the face of the most unbearable tragedies, the passengers experienced a sense of belonging with each other and the people of Gander as they found hope and created lifelong friendships.
Another show this season features characters who are finding their place. My Fair Lady takes place in 19th-century England, where the wealthy Henry Higgins, stumbles upon what he perceives to be the utterly unsophisticated Eliza Doolittle. He takes Eliza under his wing and attempts to teach her how to “be a lady.” Henry and Eliza are both changed by their interactions with each other, but not in the way you’d expect. Henry is forced to leave his isolation as he experiences feelings for Eliza. He finds himself when he discovers that love brings a depth to life that he hadn’t previously known. Eliza, on the other hand, finds her place as she finds herself. She stops attempting to become proper and learns that being herself is the right place for her after all.
Wharton Center’s 2019-2020 season is its most thought-provoking season to date. It’ll be exciting to see the effects that Dear Evan Hansen and the season’s other shows have on audiences. In a time when social media has led so many people to feel isolated, I think now – more than ever — East Lansing needs a season that emphasizes inclusion and finding your place.
For more information about subscribing to the 2019-2020 Broadway Series and/or Performing Arts Series, visit www.whartoncenter.com/subscribe.
Cami Hancock is a Wharton Center intern and a sophomore at MSU, studying Arts and Humanities with a focus on writing and theatre.