How do you take a Tony-winning, mega-hot Broadway musical — with all of the large orchestra, flashy special effects, and splashy production values that a big budget New York production is capable of — and transform that experience into a 368 page book?
For Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Steven Levenson — the mega-talented threesome who created the 2016 Broadway sensation “Dear Evan Hansen” — the first thing you do is find a novelist who doesn’t frighten easily.
“We were so fortunate to get to work with the wonderful Val Emmich,” says Justin Paul, who wrote the show’s lyrics with Pasek, the “book” of the musical (theater-speak for the spoken words in a musical’s script) was contributed by Levenson. “Val is a beautiful writer, whose writing is itself very emotional, and even has a musical lilt to its aesthetic. But when we first started meeting with him and talking about what the book would become, and how to tell the story in a new format, he was a little nervous about it. Maybe a lot nervous. Honestly, we all were.”
One of the chief concerns, Paul allows, was finding a way to translate the uniquely multisensory spirit of a Broadway show — one with songs that have become beloved to millions of people — into the far more cerebral, calm and reflective mechanics of a printed book.
And what do you do with those songs?
“There are these big tent-pole moments in the show, and they are all songs,” points out Paul, who is calling in from New York, with Pasek and Levenson on the line. “So our question was, how do we turn those songs into something that provides a similar experience, for the reader, to what people have been having when they come see the show on Broadway?”
However it was that Emmich (“The Reminders”) accomplished that challenge, the end results have thrilled critics, who’ve praised the book (released earlier this week) for its uncanny faithfulness to the play it is based on. “Even in book form,” wrote author Becky Albertalli (“Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda”), Evan Hansen’s story sings.” Jodi Picoult, author of “My Sister’s Keeper” and “A Spark of Light,” wrote “‘Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel’ is a terrific reinvention of an already brilliant piece of art. And Entertainment Weekly’s David Canfield said, “Yep, the hit musical will make you cry just as much in book form.”
On Monday, Oct. 15, author Emmich — along with lyricists Pasek and Paul — will appear in Petaluma at the Mystic Theatre. In an event sponsored by Copperfield’s Books, Emmich will read from the novel, and Pasek and Paul — who also wrote the songs for the movies “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman” — will perform tunes from the musical.
“Dear Evan Hansen,” the book and the musical, tell the story of Evan, a high-schooler with crippling social anxiety, who ends up sparking a social media frenzy when he is accidentally identified as the secret best friend of a troubled kid from the same school, who has recently died by suicide. Unsure how to break the news that the letter found in the dead boy’s pocket — addressed to “Evan Hansen” — was actually a letter he wrote to himself as part of his own therapy homework (how it got in the other kids’ pocket is a long story), Evan is forced to fabricate more letters, establishing a chain of correspondence that initially brings comfort to the boy’s grieving family, then spins out of control as Evan becomes the accidental leader of a Facebook movement to let depressed and struggling people everywhere know they are not alone in their sadness and pain.
PLANNING TO GO?
What: “Dear Evan Hansen,” the book, read by author Val Emmich, with songs from the musical performed by lyricists Benj Pasik and Justin Paul.
When: Monday, October 15, 7 p.m.
Where: Mystic Theatre, 21 N. Petaluma Blvd.
Admission: $27, includes copy of the book