Conversely, there are a few fleeting sequences in the stage version where the musical at least briefly seems to consider its darker implications. Evan’s loose group of (bad) friends in Alana and Jared contribute to this element in the song “Good for You,” where they sing in unison, “Well, I guess if I’m not of use, go ahead, you can cut me loose. Go ahead now, I won’t mind.”
The Alana relationship is particularly interesting in the show since it is only after she demands of Evan “how” will he raise $17,000 that he shows her Connor’s “suicide note.” He immediately protests after she decides to post it online, but did he not on some level show it to her in order for her to use it to raise $17,000 and reopen the apple orchard? After this scene, Alana ghosts him, suggesting she was herself only using Evan to brandish her social clout in the school and, eventually, her college applications.
The Dear Evan Hansen movie tries to wipe even this thorniness away. The context of Evan showing the note to Alana is handled slightly differently, but as a consequence there’s no ambiguity on why he showed it to her—he did not intend for her to share it online. She also, like Evan, is softened around the edges when she does answer Evan’s ringing phone on-screen and cries that she tried to take the letter down but it’s still all over social media.
The logic behind the change would seem to make both Evan and Alana more purely sympathetic and blameless for their mistakes. In Alana’s case, she isn’t a master manipulator, and in Evan’s case it is beyond his control when others take things too far. He then puts in the work to help the Murphys, beginning by admitting to the world his dishonesty.
These were obviously conscious choices made after the five years and full lifetime which passed since 2016—a year where Barack Obama was still president and the #MeToo movement hadn’t yet occurred. Now in an age where social accountability, especially in online life, and alleged authenticity are valued more than ever, having a hero who lies to the world and gets away with it is inherently problematic. So the flaws in Evan’s choices, and even Alana’s, are “fixed” with crocodile tears of regret from Alana, and then Evan making an actual effort to atone for his mistakes.
Yet I would argue it doesn’t actually improve the fundamental issues with the musical. In the case of Alana, having a character show the ugly side of social manipulation, even among ostensibly sympathetic figures, was one of the truer impulses in a story that otherwise glorifies the healing power of finding validation from strangers on the internet. While both the film and show also depict the downside of online life with a discordant singing hydra coming after the Murphys, it’s only because of a couple of misguided mistakes. And in the case of the stage show, the larger message is Evan’s musical platitudes are simply too powerful (or profitable) for the Murphys to shatter.