- OnStage New York Critic
Dear Evan Hansen,
You were the boy I had a crush on in high school. Maybe it’s cause I wasn’t all that different from you— drowning in my own awkwardness and struggling to navigate a time in life that felt interminably terrible. Maybe it’s because the moment you stepped onstage and opened your mouth, I understood you. You grabbed my heart and didn’t let go. You still haven’t. The journey you took me on in the course of two and a half hours was nothing short of the classic hero’s journey.
My friend and I compared notes at intermission. “He got me during ‘For Forever’” my normally stoic friend admitted. For me it was “You Will Be Found.” And given the sniffles and nose-blowing surrounding me, it was safe to say that this show hits a majority of audience members. This brand new musical, not based on a book or movie but just a new (resonant, requisite, relatable) story about fitting in, acceptance and identity hits you right in the gut, particularly if you were a kid who dreaded walking the halls in high school.
Dear Evan Hansen is impactful for a number of reasons, but topping the list is the extraordinary performance by Ben Platt. Though a solidly talented, committed cast surrounds him, you can’t take your eyes off Platt when he’s onstage. The depth of his dedication to character and performance is extraordinary and without a doubt one of the best performances I’ve seen this year. The specific minutiae of character he finds in Evan Hansen is brilliant and it’s obvious that this character he created (originated) is part of him now, so dedicated he is to delivering a show-stopping performance.
The music, lyrics and book are outstanding. I was downright depressed to learn that the soundtrack wasn’t available until February and judging by the number of pre-orders I witnessed at intermission, I wasn’t alone in this sentiment. One of the most beautiful things for me (as a playwright) was the strength of the scenes between the songs. Often this is an overlooked element in musical theatre, a thread to take you from one song to the next, but the scenes in Dear Evan Hansen are witty, compelling and well-written. Steven Levenson’s book is perfectly paired with Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s score, which delivers a direct punch to the gut.
I always look forward to a David Korins designed show but he’s really one-upped himself here. The set is undeniably incredible. For a show that touches on, utilizes and emphasizes the role that social media plays in our lives, Korins has designed a set that reinforces that role as a central piece in our now highly digital lives with screens upon screens of scrolling information, but has done so in a subtly beautiful, simple way. They always say that the best directors create shows where you can’t detect the director’s hand and I feel that way about Korins’ designs. He designs and builds sets with such a entirely thorough understanding of the show that takes a great show and great performances to the next level. For me, his set was the linchpin in what makes this show so relevant and important to the world we live in now.
In high school I was the girl with the back brace, braces and coke-bottle glasses. I was the nerd on the sidelines looking in, trying to figure out where I fit. I turned to theatre for solace, inspiration and as an escape from the uncomfortable world I lived in. As we wander towards the end of 2016 and look to the new year there’s a lot of uncertainty, fear, and anger in the air after such a highly charged election. People who felt on the outskirts to begin with, worry about losing their rights, identities and voices. This musical gently reminds us that we when we’re broken on the ground, that we will be found— something I think we all need reminded of now and again. That’s something that Dear Evan Hansen does—it lets the sun come rushing in to remind us we’re not alone.
So thank you, Dear Evan Hansen. Thank you for such a beautifully crafted, extraordinarily executed, socially relevant show. I look forward to all your acceptance speeches in June.
Photo: Mike Faist and Ben Platt (Matthew Murphy)