Cast members from the hit Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen showed off their vocal talents while supporting a good cause
Cast members from the hit Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen are showing off their vocal talents while supporting a good cause.
The musical, which won six Tony Awards this year, has been frequented by a parade of celebrities, including Beyoncé, Amy Schumer and Katy Perry. But on Tuesday, the casts’ “VIP” audience members were all under the age of eight.
Laura Dreyfuss, Olivia Puckett and Ben Ross gave a special performance for four young patients at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone. The performance featured one ukulele, a Taylor Swift hit and a memorable dance party.
“Once you have the ability to learn music it expands your brain in a beautiful way. It’s a beautiful distraction for anyone, let alone children who are battling a sickness,” Dreyfuss tells PEOPLE. “It’s just really rewarding to be able to use our skillset to give back and give these kids whatever relief they can get.”
Dreyfuss was welcomed with applause and smiles when she entered the hospital’s playroom. Ukulele in hand, the actress and her costars introduced themselves to the kids, and asked what songs they wanted to hear.
At first the kids were shy — but the music made them more comfortable. After bopping along to the star’s performance of “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift, 4-year-old Sophie Jackson shouted out “Elsa!” referencing the princess voiced by Idina Menzel in Disney’s Frozen.
For Sophie, the singing program was a celebration: Tuesday was her last day in the hospital after being treated for a perforated appendix.
Per her request, the cast began singing Frozen’s “Let It Go” while she sang along. Inspired by her excitement, the Broadway stars became more animated throughout the song, incorporating their own dance moves. At one point Puckett shouted, “Catch me Ben!” and she jumped into her costar’s arms.
“You come in and [the kids are] timid, and then the minute that music starts being a part of the conversation it’s like, smiles start to appear and spirits start to get lifted,” Ross tells PEOPLE. “It’s beautiful.”
Sophie’s hospital roommate, 4-year-old Luciana Rojas, was also leaving that day for a physical therapy center. “Luci” was born with a tethered spinal cord, which is when the spinal cord is attached to tissue around the spine. She received a successful surgery in infancy, yet given her young age there was a possibility it would retether.
Two weeks ago, Luci made a movement during her dance class that stretched her spinal cord and caused it to become tethered again.
“She ended up having to get an emergency surgery on Thursday to untether her spinal cord again,” Luci’s father Freddy Rojas, 51, tells PEOPLE. “When she came here she couldn’t even walk, and now she’s dancing and singing with the Dear Evan Hansen cast.”
Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital frequently uses music therapy and art therapy as treatment for patients.
Chris Brown, 61, who is the director of the department of therapeutic recreation, child life and creative arts therapies at the hospital, says music is a “powerful language” when it comes to forming relationships with young patients.
“For kids, making art and making music is a much easier way, and a much more effective way, to communicate their feelings,” Brown tells PEOPLE. “So just having someone come in and communicate with them through music is a really powerful medium.”
The rest of the show’s setlist featured “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, and ended with a group dance party.
Dreyfuss, Puckett and Ross experimented with different moves, including the “Sprinkler,” “Shopping Cart” and “Running Man.” But they weren’t the real stars: The kids were all smiles as they danced and bopped along to the music.
“I didn’t realize I was in a room full of dancers!” Dreyfuss said while giving the patients high-fives. “I’m embarrassed!”
The idea for the performance originated from Puckett. The actress had previously performed for children while on tour in Motown The Musical and American Idiot, and thought it would be a rewarding way for the Dear Evan Hansen cast to spend their day off.
“These kids are sometimes in the hospital for so long, and they don’t know how long they’re going to be here,” Puckett tells PEOPLE. “Music can take them to another place.”