We've Got Hollywood Covered

‘Dear Evan Hansen': Musical Numbers Were the ‘Most Dangerous Thing’ to Shoot During the Pandemic (Video)

TIFF 2021: ”It’s the most mingling of, you know, molecules,“ writer Steven Levenson says

Group singing has been at the top of the list of things the public should avoid during the pandemic. But it was crucial to creating “Dear Evan Hansen.”

“We kept being told that singing was the most dangerous thing because it’s the most exposed,” said Steven Levenson, writer of the book used to adapt the Broadway show and the Universal film. “It’s the most mingling of, you know, molecules,” he added with a wry laugh.

“But there’s something incredibly true about that, and human,” Levenson continued in a more serious tone during a conversation moderated by TheWrap’s Steve Pond at the Toronto International Film Festival. “There was something about getting to go on set and watching these actors …take off (masks and face shields) and sing actually live on camera in a room in a year when we couldn’t go anywhere else to see people sing. It was just on a personal level really thrilling and moving, and I hope that some of that experience comes through on film for audiences.”

It should be noted that full safety protocols and social distancing were part of the production of “Dear Evan Hansen.” However Levenson, director Stephen Chbosky and cast members Julianne Moore and Danny Pino all said that the collective isolation of the pandemic increased the importance of intimacy in the storytelling, including unmasking to create music together.

Said Moore: “I think we all felt really fortunate that we were able to do something that was so humane and important emotionally during a time when people were feeling very disconnected and kind of lost… I was so delighted to be to be there, and to be working with you guys even though you were a little distanced.”

Pino agreed with Moore, who plays the mother of troubled teenager Evan Hansen (Ben Platt); Pino portrays the father figure in his life. Pino said the whole cast felt the “humanity” of being in the same room without masks since they could not be worn for the big screen.

“Those lived experiences of our created characters felt all the more real and necessary to us when were all on the set together, creating this,” Pino said. “To create the character, to learn the music on our own in isolation, also kind of mirrored the way that these characters grieved, on their own. So when all that grief comes together in a very specific but isolated way, I think it a helps to define the film as well.”

The team also agreed that, as the pandemic wanes, the time is right for musicals. Moore said it’s become an old trope of musicals but it’s true: The character sings when emotions run so high it’s no longer enough to simply speak. “These people further the story, they reveal themselves in song in a way that’s so vulnerable and beautiful and touching,” she said. “That’s what I felt when I saw the show on Broadway, and it’s what my kids responded to, the emotion of it, the purity of it. I think we’re all craving that these days.”

Director Chobsky pointed out that, for a young teen audience, music and dance took on an unexpected importance through TikTok videos during the pandemic. “It’s now part of their lives in a way that it wasn’t before,” Chobsky said. “It’s like there’s almost a return to the Golden Age. It’s like the digital Golden Age of musicals.”

The pandemic, Chobsky added, has left “scars for everyone.”

“Whether you lost somebody or not, I don’t know anyone that wasn’t affected very deeply by this experience,” Chobsky said. “It’s like what Julianne was saying — there’s just so much pent up in all of us…I’m glad there are so many good movie musicals this year, and we’re proud to make one of them.”

For more of this conversation, watch the video above