BWW Interview: DEAR EVAN HANSEN Becomes a Book, and Before Their Promotional Stop in Salt Lake City, Its Creators Discuss the Adaptation Process
You love the musical. And now you can love the book.
While Broadway shows can begin as a book, the wild popularity of the original storyline of DEAR EVAN HANSEN convinced the creators that an adaptation into novel would be equally successful.
"What's been amazing is without even seeing the show, DEAR EVAN HANSEN has become attractive to so many people," said Justin Paul in an exclusive Broadway World interview. "They have seen clips on YouTube and know the songs from the cast recording, but haven't yet been able to see it.
"And we were impressed with all the fan fiction and fan art. With the novel, we're able to expand the story, dig into the holes and some questions that may remain from the stage show. We're able to take the characters and give readers a more intimate experience. In a book format, we reach exponentially more people," the composer said before his visit (with Emmich) to Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 13. (For ticket information on the King's English Bookshop-sponsored "Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel" event, visit brownpapertickets.com/event/3626568.)
For Author Val Emmich, the inversion of the usual page-to-stage adaptation process was a wild, six-month-long ride.
"I feel lucky after the fact," said the writer, who is also an actor and singer-songwriter. "Because I was very frightened. I wasn't initially aware of the depth of the popularity, and I'm glad I didn't know. There was a great pressure to live up to the show, and there were times I doubted it could work."
Emmich met with Paul and his songwriting partner Benj Pasek, along with the musical's bookwriter, Steven Levenson, who convinced his of the book's possibilities. And the three original creators assisted directly in the adaptation.
The page-to-stage decision turned out to be a natural course. After the show won six Tony Awards, DEAR EVAN HANSEN was cemented as a force on Broadway. And the cast entered the Billboard 200 chart at No. 8 -- the highest-charting debut position for an original cast album since 1961 -- and went on to win the 2018 Grammy Award for best musical theater album. Then the creative team noticed that the story had developed a fan base beyond people who had seen it on Broadway, with fan fiction being published online.
The writers' objective is to encourage the message of acceptance, honesty and love that is relayed each night in the its 984-seat Broadway home and on the national tour that recently began in Denver.
"I'm really proud of what the book is," Emmich said. "The book is a great companion to the stage show."
"Val did such a beautiful job," Paul said. "He takes pieces of the lyrics to get the reader inside the songs. The verbiage may not be word for word from the show, but it stirs up the same emotions. It really stands on its own."
Was there a particular aspect more challenging for Emmich when adapting the musical? "It's all hard," he responds. "To get onto the page, it's just the biggest kinetic emotional tornado. It was a real challenge not doing too much, and knowing when to take a chance."
Emmich decided to adapt the story into a first-person narrative, from the point of view of Evan Hansen, who has an anxiety disorder, and said the anxiety about writing the book fueled his writing.
When a book tour was announced, Salt Lake City was not included in the list of cities in the BroadwayWorld announcement. Pasek and Paul changed that.
In March, Utah Valley University was able to snag the duo for its Roots of Knowledge concert-lecture series (reviewed at /salt-lake-city/article/BWW-Review-PASEK-AND-PAUL-Concert-Lecture-at-Utah-Valley-University-20180302). "To be honest, we know the passionate love people in Salt Lake City have for musical theater. We had a fantastic experience at UVU. There are warm and loving people.
Emmich recalls his own experience performing with a band at Salt Lake's Kilby Court. "So many people have followed my career since then, and they've been asking when am I coming back. And now I can tell them," he said.
The adaptation is Emmich's second novel, after "The Reminders" (Library Journal: "quirky, touching and addictive").
"I have a few coals in the fire that I would only embarrass myself to talk about if they don't move beyond the gestation period," he said. "It's a surprising time for me."
Along with an Oscar, Tony and Grammy, Paul and Pasek can say they have collaborated with one of their idols, musical legend Alan Menken. They have written new songs for a live-action remake of Disney's "Aladdin," directed by Guy Ritchie.
"The [original] film is extraordinary and iconic, and it was wonderful to play even a small fraction of a role in the new version. We wrote three new songs. But who knows? It can be not a musical tomorrow."
Slim chance of that happening.