“Dear Evan Hansen,” the 2017 Tony winner for best musical, never specifies its protagonist’s hometown. But as far as show co-creators Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are concerned, the Evan audiences have come to know was born in the District. “ ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ and D.C. are synonymous in our brains,” Paul says. The duo, both 33, wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway hit about a socially anxious high school senior who, following a classmate’s suicide, entangles himself in a lie. Before “Dear Evan Hansen” earned acclaim for its earworm-packed score and deft portrayal of isolation in the social media age, the show got its start in 2015 with a pre-Broadway run at D.C.’s Arena Stage. “Those D.C. audiences, we really view them as our collaborators,” Pasek says. “We knew [then] that it was striking a chord.” Also celebrated for their work on the films “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman,” the Oscar-, Grammy- and Tony-winning pair are returning to D.C. to share Evan’s story in a new medium: a novelization, co-written with author Val Emmich and the show’s playwright, Steven Levenson. “Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel” hits shelves Tuesday, and Pasek, Paul and Emmich are marking the occasion with an evening of conversation and live musical performances, hosted by Politics and Prose at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 4900 Connecticut Ave. NW; Tue., $24 (includes book).
What was it about this show that lent itself to a novelization?
Paul: There was so much content and backstory and in-between moments that you can’t fit into a 2½-hour musical. It touches on depression, anxiety, suicide — a lot of internal concepts that maybe we’re all dealing with in our own ways. That seemed really ripe for a novel because we would be able to get inside the characters’ heads.
How did you go about creating a novel that can both stand on its own and enrich the story for fans who already know the musical?
Pasek: The theater is something that you go to with a group of people and you’re having a communal experience while watching a piece of art. There’s a whole other experience of holding a book in your hand and getting to know a character and live with them instantly while you’re sitting in your living room. There’s a kind of intimacy that the novel form takes.
Paul: It’s a really complementary experience, and I think that you do get the most out of the story if you have the chance to experience it in both forms.
You’ve also been traveling with “Dear Evan Hansen’s” first touring production and working on Disney’s upcoming live-action remakes of “Aladdin” and “Snow White.” How have you handled that workload?
Pasek: We might not sleep as much as we used to, but we’re tired and we’re extremely excited and happy as a result. It’s definitely a balancing act, but one that’s incredibly gratifying and rewarding and one we try not to take for granted at all.
It must be daunting taking on the expectations that come with this kind of success early in your careers.
Paul: Some of that can become intimidating in itself and challenging to say, “OK, now we have pressure on ourselves, we have to try to keep up the good work.” And we will and we won’t. I’m sure we’ll work on some things that are successful and we’ll work on some things that aren’t. That’s how probability tends to work, so we accept that.
Your hands may be full right now, but what kind of projects would you like to pursue down the road?
Paul: Writing an original musical was a really very special thing to get to do, and I know that’s definitely something that stays in the front of our minds.
Pasek: Whether that be in film or TV or theater, we just want to keep having the opportunity to express ourselves through the way that those characters express themselves. But we were BFA musical theater majors at Michigan, so that is our first love and I don’t think the idea of writing for the theater will ever be something that we don’t clamor for and desperately hope to do more of.