The 71st annual Tony Awards are this Sunday and one show sure to make a splash on Broadway’s biggest night is the critically-acclaimed Dear Evan Hansen — which is going into the evening with nine nominations including one for best musical and another for its star Ben Platt.
The musical, which is currently selling out eight shows a week at New York City’s Music Box Theatre, tells the story of an anxious high school loner who remains “on the outside looking in” until a lie brings him a wave of popularity (and sudden social media stardom).
The unifying premise has brought together parents and kids alike, sparking conversation about themes like peer pressure, bullying, the loneliness of adolescence, and suicide. But it’s also deeply affected the cast and creative team, who told PEOPLE how inspired they are by the conversations happening around them daily.
“People are deeply impacted by the show,” explains star Mike Faist, a Tony nominee for his role as teenage suicide victim Conor in the show. “People continue to come back multiple times. The beautiful thing is that kids are bringing their parents to see the show, parents are bringing their kids to see the show. I think the show communicates something that maybe they’re not able to say in their own words.”
“It’s overwhelming, quite frankly,” he adds. “This is the reason I love doing theater. We get to ask questions and raise awareness to things and get conversations going.”
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Composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul — Oscar winners this year for their lyrics to La La Land‘s “City of Stars” who collaborated on the musical with book writer Steven Levenson from an idea based loosely on a real-life event from Pasek’s life — felt they were onto something as they were crafting the piece.
“The show was something that through writing it, we were able to connect to each other and able to connect to our cast and able to say things and express things that are difficult to say to ourselves,” Pasek reveals. “It’s a conversation starter about inner turmoil or struggle or loneliness, that you might not feel comfortable or safe to be able to say otherwise. And that’s been really inspiring to be able to say that through this show.”
Perhaps the person whose been most affected by the themes at play in the piece is Tony-nominee Rachel Bay Jones, who plays Evan’s mother Heidi. A mother herself to a 14-year-old daughter, the actress tells PEOPLE the show has allowed her to not only understand her own child better, but also her mother.
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“We’re all kind of analyzing and looking at how it is as parents and how we connect with our kids and how kids connect with our parents — what we miss, what we gloss over,” she says. “I’m able to really look over it a lot myself in my own life.
“It’s an incredible thing,” Jones continues. “And I understand it — I get it. I have a lot of painful stories myself, we all have those. Some more than others. But to have the richness of this shared experience, it’s been a dream come true.”
The 2017 Tony Awards airs Sunday (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.