I saw the above hashtag written on a sign on the merch booth as I wove my way through the lower level of The Music Box Theatre, eager to get back to my seat before the start of “Dear Evan Hansen”, Broadway’s most celebrated new musical.
As I tiptoed to my seat, the anticipation building, I noticed that the crowd was more eclectic and diverse than what I am used to. My seat was in the center of the Orchestra section, no more than 10 rows from the stage. I had a grandmother to my right and a young boy to my left. What brought us all together on this Sunday afternoon?
The hottest ticket in New York? Absolutely.
Brilliant music? Yes.
A poignant story with breathtaking performances? No doubt.
But I think that it was more than those tangibles; I think that it was more about that hashtag,
one that I did not totally understand until 2 1/2 hours (and many tears) later, as I stood, applauding and sobbing, during a roaring standing ovation.
What brought us all together was a universal longing that I believe that we all feel–
the yearning to be heard and seen.
It was the hope for Hope.
“When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound”
This weekend, I got to enjoy a New York minute that was more special than any other in recent memory. I got to write from (and dance-party in) the most beautifully palatial hotel room at The St. Regis Hotel.
There, we enjoyed happy hour cocktails at the King Cole bar where the Bloody Mary was said to have been invented.
I got to squeeze into a tiny booth with a dear old friend, drinking even older drinks.
And though I tasted the Bloody Mary, I opted for “The Astor Midnight”, as Astor is my middle name and it was like champagne and a smoothie put together and I am a sucker for some good branding.
After this very happy hour, we all went back to our amazing room for snuggles and dancing
(for some reason we played Inner Circle’s “Sweat (A La La La La Long)” on repeat. It was weird and amazing.)
My sister, chic as ever, joined us and then whisked us to an amaazzzzing dinner at Scalinatella. It was such a perfect cozy city night with close family and friends.
There is more to share about our New York overnight, but really, this post is about the show. Because it’s all about the show. Because this show is so much.
I will not give away too much about the show, but “Dear Evan Hansen” is a masterpiece. It is directed by Michael Greif, known to me from his work on my beloved “Rent”, stars the young Ben Platt whose performance was unparalleled, and, as Charles Isherwood wrote in The New York Times,
“…the show, with a haunting score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, matched by a book of equal sensitivity by Steven Levenson, doesn’t sledgehammer home its affecting story. On the contrary, the musical finds endless nuances in the relationships among its characters…and should appeal to just about another who as ever felt, at some point in life, that he or she was ‘trapped on the outside looking in’, as one lyric has it. Which is just about everyone with a beating heart.”
Yes, that whole “heart” thing. Mine broke and was put back together more times in those 2 and a half hours than I can count. This show touched every single person in the audience today, but I felt a special connection to it. And I am sure that I am not alone in having found my own home in “Dear Evan Hansen”.
It was not just that I wanted to be on stage (I did). It was not just that I wanted to sing along to songs that I had only just heard for the first time, and then hug every single person around me, including the actors (I did want to do that, as well).
It was that I could relate to this story, as told in such a genius way, on so many levels at once.
“Dear Evan Hansen” deals with a lot of themes that I also deal with here on this site, in my most candid of posts.
It takes those stigma-ridden parts of life about which we so often just whisper and not only screams them, but does so in poignant musical numbers. Talk about smashing through walls.
It addresses the one thing that has been the hardest for me to address here, when I wrote about being “So Sad” this past August when we lost a beloved member of #teamMEA to her struggle with mental illness.
This is why everyone loves this musical, but I think that for me, there was another layer that was both incredible and excruciating to realize.
I watched this show as so many people at once.
I watched as a musical theatre fan. That was the easy part.
I watched as an advocate. As someone who talks about mental health all the time. “YES!” I wanted to shout so many times. “THIS! This is it! This is why I share! This is why I write!” This, to me, was so touching. I felt so grateful.
I also watched as a sufferer. This was a bit more difficult. It was comforting to feel less alone, to see that the struggles that I face are universal, and while that is sad, it is also reassuring and true. And these past several months have been some of the hardest of my life, during which time I have often felt so lost. So when the characters said and sang, over and over, that “you will be found” I tried to hold in my tears until they came spilling over, like a deluge, in big puddles that ran down my cheeks.
I watched as a mother. During the Act 1 finale, during which time they highlight a certain character’s photos from childhood, I, for lack of a more appropriate term, lost my shit. I thought about the world in which we live. I thought about the struggles that human beings face and how I am responsible for two human beings. I am not just tasked with keeping them clothed and safe and fed, but also with trying to model fortitude and resilience and self-love for them. When I wrote my most vulnerable post ever last month, “Walk the Line”, I talked about this struggle. My desire to protect my children while balancing on the tightrope of wellness and illness. Since that post I have gotten stronger in some ways and weaker in others. I hate having to type that, but it’s true. And it sucks.
Finally, and probably most poignantly, I watched as a daughter. I watched the incredible portrayals of parents who were facing the realities that their children were suffering from mental health issues. I saw their pain. I felt it. And I thought of my own parents. Though I am 31, live on my own in the house that we worked so hard for, have my own business and also work outside of the home, run a household, have friends and get up and out of bed each day, they carry such heaviness in their hearts and it is because of me. And for this I feel so guilty. I know how I feel when my children are sad about normal kid issues and it is the worst feeling in the world. I literally want to reach inside of them, grab their pain, and find a way to get rid of it, even if I had to swallow it myself.
My parents have had a sick daughter for over three years now. I am not sick all the time and I have absolutely had ups and downs–highs and lows–from my initial postpartum to more recent setbacks, but I have certainly not been the vibrant, bubbly, strong person that I had been before October, 2013. And while in many ways I am so much better off for all that I have endured, and in while in so many ways we are closer and more bonded than ever, I am not going to lie:
This has been a nightmare for them. They do not deserve that. They are so good. They deserve to live a day without having to worry about me. And I am working hard at getting there. But, as it stands, I am a weight that they have to drag with them every minute of every day. I do not mean to imply that they treat me as though I am a burden.
I just know how hard it is and I know how much I wish that I could relieve them of that burden.
It has only been hours since I saw the show today, so I have not fully processed it and all that it has made me feel.
However, I was so filled with emotion after the final scene that I was about to spill over and subsequently spent our drive home typing feverishly on my cellphone, scribbling notes for this post so that I could share some of these thoughts, scattered as they may be, with you.
Because if there is one thing that I should share about my New York experience it is this:
If I am not alone, then you are not alone.
If I have not been lost, you will not be lost.
I spent 36 hours during which time I stayed in the most beautiful hotel in the City, had swanky cocktails with a friend whom I do not see very often, but who loves me as though I do.
I ate really good meals at amazing restaurants and was surrounded by people who have seen me at my very worst.
And they are still by my side.
I saw a show to which I could relate on so many levels and I cried, but at an appropriate level. I did not lose it. It did not trigger me in a bad way, but rather it prompted me to feel grateful.
I was able to walk from the theatre back to my hotel, a longer walk than I normally would be allowed to do, but I was able to enjoy the fresh air (yes, even in New York City there is some fresh air) and the chill of the evening on my face, and my husband’s hand holding mind, keeping it warm in his strong grasp.
I was able to get into the car and call my parents to thank them. I thanked them for watching the kids for us. I thanked them for the show tickets, which for a Hanukkah present for us.
But what they do not know is that I was also thanking them for being mine.
For sticking by me.
For always being with me, even when we are apart. For having the faith that it won’t always be this way.
For seeing the light in me, even when I cannot.
“When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around
Do you ever really crash, or even make a sound”
There have been so many times, especially lately, when I have come so close to falling. I have stumbled. I have lost my way in the thicket and I did not know if I would ever find my way out.
But thanks to my tribe–to my family members, t0 my friends, to my team, to you,
I have not been allowed to crash.
And as long as there is air in my lungs,
and as long as my fingers can still move swiftly across the keyboard to type,
I will still be making sounds,
screaming, shouting, crying and calling for action,
making sure that you know that you are not alone, that this too shall pass and that we are all in this together.
I say this for you, but I also say this for myself.
Let’s stay together. Let’s remember to hold onto that hope. Let’s listen to the words from the musical today, when they say,
“No matter what
I’ll be here
When it feels so big
’til it all feels so small”
Because there are brighter days to come. Someday, I know, this period of time will be a memory. It will never leave any of us, but it will no longer dominate our days.
Someday, perhaps, it will indeed feel so small.
I can think of no better way to end this than to quote the “Dear Evan Hansen” lyricists Pasek and Paul when I say, and I mean from the bottom of my heart,
“So let the sun come streaming in
’cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again
Lift your head off the ground and look around…
You will be found.”