Dear Evan Hansen: The Pros And Cons Of Adapting Broadway Material To The Big Screen

November 4, 2021

A well-known Broadway production, Dear Evan Hansen now has its own film adaptation. The show turned movie tells the story of a high school senior struggling with social anxiety disorder, who following the tragic suicide of a fellow classmate, goes on a journey of acceptance and self-discovery. As critically acclaimed as the film’s source material is, there lies an interesting conversation beneath the film’s potential success. This isn’t the first time a Broadway show has been adapted to the big screen, as it’s been done for shows like West Side Story (1961) and Phantom of the Opera (2005). Today, we’ll briefly weigh the pros and cons of stage production to film adaptations.

Pro: Reaching Larger Audiences 

The great thing about movies is that, as a visual medium, it is much more readily accessible to the public. For the most part, the moviegoing experience is cheaper than grabbing a couple of Broadway tickets. It also gives people who aren’t as inclined to see the stage production version a chance to engage with the material through a medium they’re more familiar with (or quite possibly, open their minds to giving the stage production version a chance). 

Con: The Translation Conundrum Betwixt Visual Mediums

One of the potential downsides of transitioning to a film adaptation is that of vision. When it comes to movies, there is always a chance that a certain aspect of the broadway show could get lost in interpretation when exchanging mediums. Screen Rant’s 5 best & 5 worst Film Adaptations Of Hit Broadway Musicals attests to this problem, explaining that there’s a certain “magic” about stage productions that oftentimes filmmakers just aren’t able to replicate. It is why movies like Cats (2019) and A Chorus Line (1985) weren’t welcomed by the best reviews (Screen Rant, 2021). It could be the way a certain scene is shot or the dialogue between two characters. A minute change, no matter how seemingly small and inconsequential, could change the way audiences view and perceive the story, resulting in a “translation conundrum”. 

Pro: Employing Digital Capture

An article by Rolling Stone offers a solution to the translation conundrum. One of the ways directors can bring a Broadway show to movie theaters without making any real changes is by doing what’s called a Digital Capture. Simply put, a Digital Capture is a “film or video recording of a stage production”. Instead of lining up an all-new cast and tweaking the narrative, Digital Capture allows viewers to partake of the Broadway experience without the translation conundrum. 


Con: Undercutting Stage Productions

While making a film adaptation has the potential to increase a stage production’s exposure, there’s something of a catch-22. If the show’s movie adaptation does well in theaters, that could attract viewers to the source material on stage, promoting it. The issue here is what if the film adaptation does its job too well? That instead of attracting viewers to the stage production the film is based on, the film does the opposite and becomes the medium of preference among viewers? Such a thing could then be damaging to stage productions at that point, as the production is now, in a way, more “convenient” in terms of viewer consumption. Undercutting stage productions should be the last thing anyone wants, as it is the means by which we as viewers are getting these amazing stories to begin with.

Final Thoughts

Despite the ups and downs of this process, there may be hope for Dear Evan Hansen yet. An interesting tidbit about this movie is that some of the cast is composed of the same Broadway actors that portray their characters in the stage production itself (see Collider’s article for more on who is who). A typical flaw of film adaptations, this film will not be suffering from this issue thankfully, which could lend to how good it can be. To further bolster the film’s “street cred” so to speak, the writer for the film is none other than Adam Levenson, who is the playwright that wrote the show on Broadway as well. In short, Dear Evan Hansen’s film adaptation looks like it will be blending the best of both worlds in order to do justice to the original stage production, all while expanding its audience. Dear Evan Hansen is now in theaters.