Innovative, real and highly emotional, Dear Evan Hansen is a musical for today— relatable to Millennials with a message that will span the generations.
Connor, a high school student, perhaps confused and feeling alone, takes his own life, an all-too familiar news story. But what happens next in this world premiere musical is what makes this story so different. His parents believe that a suicide note was written to his friend Evan Hansen, when in fact, the two were basically strangers. Evan tries to ease the suffering of the parents by pretending he was truly Evan’s friend and things spiral out of control, with lots of love and laughter along the way.
Ben Platt of Pitch Perfect fame is just that as the title character, an anxiety-ridden social misfit who hems and haws awkwardly as he just tries to get by one day at a time. In tunes such as “Waving Though a Window,” “For Forever” and “Words Fail,” he’s so lovable that you want to reach out and make him feel as if everything’s okay.
As Zoe, the fresh-faced girl of Evan’s dreams—and Connor’s sister—Laura Dreyfuss (fresh off a run as Glee’s good-girl cheerleader Madison) is a perfect complement to Platt. The two have great chemistry and their duet on “If I Could Tell Her” is my favorite in the production.
Broadway vets Michael Park (Smokey Joe’s Café) and Jennifer Laura Thompson (Footloose, Urinetown) ring true as Connor’s heartbroken parents, Larry and Cynthia Murphy, conveying all the grief and confusion of those who have suffered such a horrid loss. Watching them bond with Evan and finding hope and reasons to smile is extremely touching. Park especially shines on “The Right Way,” a song that characterizes the father he hoped to be.
Helping to lighten the somber tone are Alexis Molnar and Will Roland, playing Alana and Jared, two fellow classmates who themselves seem to need a friend. Both characters provide some nice laughs as they get pulled into Evan’s web of lies. Mike Faist as the troubled Connor has some fun moments—when he, Platt and Roland evoke smiles with the toe-tapping “Sincerely Me.”
In Rent and Next to Normal, director Michael Greif has already helmed two of the best musicals of the last twenty years, and Dear Evan Hansen should find an equally strong fan base. It’s fast moving but knows when to slow down and Greif knows how to get those tear ducts open, only to put a smile on your face sheer moments later.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN
July 10 – August 23
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater
1101 Sixth Street, SW
2 hours, 45 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $50 – $90
Steven Levenson’s book will pull at the heartstrings while bringing lots of laughs. In fact, some of the musical’s best moments are those little smiles and chuckles that come from everyday, easy conversations about school and friendship. Platt especially takes you on an emotional rollercoaster with stories that mix poignancy and joy—words that seem perfect for Evan and the situation he has gotten himself into.
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s ((A Christmas Story, Dogfight) score is deeply moving, and works to keep the story building at a lively pace. The one song that seemed a bit out of place was “So Big/So Small,” although it was sung incredibly by Rachel Bay Jones (Evan’s mom, Heidi). It went on a bit long and was a bit too somber. It’s one that I think will have to be reconsidered before a Broadway run.
And make no mistake about it, this show is exactly what Broadway needs right now. With Hamilton proving that audiences were starved for something original and somewhat daring, Dear Evan Hansen should have no problem attracting a crowd. I suggest getting your tickets while you can because this is a can’t-miss DC musical of 2015.
Dear Evan Hansen . Book by Steven Levenson . Music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul . Directed by Michael Greif . Featuring Ben Platt, Will Roland, Rachel Bay Jones, Laura Thompson, Mike Faist, Laura Dreyfuss, Michael Park . Alexis Molnar . Choreography: Danny Mefford . Music director: Ben Cohn . Musical supervision: Alex Lacamoire . Vocal arrangements and additional arrangements: Justin Paul . Co-music supervisor and additional orchestrations: Christopher Jahnke . Music supervisor, orchestrations and additional arrangements: Alex Lacamoire . Set designer: David Korins . Costume designer: Emily Rebholz . Lighting designer: Japhy Weideman . Sound designer: Clive Goodwin . Projection designer: Peter Nigrini . Stage manager: Judith Schoenfeld assisted by Michael McGoff . Produced by Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater . Reviewed by Keith Loria.