Dear Evan Hansen the Musical Lights up the Forrest Theatre

Photos by Evan Zimmerman, courtesy of Kimmel Cultural Campus

We spoke with Lili Thomas of Dear Evan Hansen, the musical, originally composed by Ardmore resident Benj Pasek and his partner.

Ardmore’s Benj Pasek is half of the Pasek and Paul duo whose compositions feature prominently on the original musical Dear Evan Hansen, playing through August 28 at The Forrest Theatre. The show received widespread critical acclaim, earning Pasek and Paul the 2017Tony Award for Best Original Score. DEH explores the full range of human emotions and parental responsibility—and failure—Lili Thomas plays Cynthia Murphy in DEH, a stay-at-home wife and mother of a son who commits suicide. The daughter of classical musicians herself, who has also performed on string and brass instruments, Thomas was recently in Dave Malloy’s pre-Broadway Octet at Berkeley Rep and off-Broadway in We’re Gonna Die, The Hello Girls and Only Human. She has also performed at Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center and Milwaukee Rep, among others.  

dear evan hansen musical

MLT: Do you identify with your character? 

LT: As a mother of two children, an 11-year-old daughter [and] an eight-year-old son, just like Cynthia Murphy, there are definitely some parallels. Happily, very different circumstances. The script is so beautifully written that, even through the dramatic turns, it encompasses the struggle of doing a good job parenting. There is no rule book for how to be a good mom—and good parents are those who keep trying.  

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MLT: Who does this show speak to? 

LT: There’s a relationship in DEH for each attendee to identify with—with three adults, five teens, and the two very families from very different SES in the cast. You see these two families with different resources struggling with the same things. It’s a chameleon of a show that can mean something to anyone. 

dear evan hansen musical

MLT: What does the show mean for you personally? 

LT: It’s really difficult to show a parent who has failed their child in a positive light. I struggled to bring heart and likeability to a character who is surface-level easy to be disappointed or angry with. But that matches reality—parents can’t fix everything. I like to think that I really love her, because I feel so invested in her. The message of the show is connection—I’m so grateful to be able to tell the story post-pandemic. Using social media as a connection point—I think it hits people in a more visceral way. DEH is fresh and new even though it’s six years old—as a society, we have a new perspective on things that have come to light in the pandemic.  

I identified with both mothers when I sat in the audience in NYC. They were written so authentically and beautifully instead of caricatures—and with all-male writers, that’s amazing. [Pajek and Paul’s] music is gorgeous and the lyrics seamlessly translate into the scenes. It’s a smart and evocative score. 

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