- OnStage New Jersey Critic
“On the outside always looking in, will I ever be more than I’ve always been? ‘Cause I’m tap, tap, tap, tapping on the glass. Waving through a window.” These words sung by title character, Evan Hansen, provide the connection so many people will have with the brand new musical opening tonight at the Music Box Theatre on W. 45th Street. It delivers a classic Broadway theme of “man vs. self” in a unique and updated way that is riveting, heartfelt, and immediate. It had its world premiere at the Arena Stage in 2015 and opened Off-Broadway in March of 2016 before transferring to the Music Box Theatre.
“Dear Evan Hansen” starts on the eve of Evan Hansen’s school year beginning with a conversation between Evan (the riveting Ben Platt, Pitch Perfect) and his single mother, Heidi, played by the phenomenal Rachel Bay Jones, Pippin). She reminds Evan that his therapist asked him to write affirmation notes, to help him deal with social awkwardness and social anxiety. Evan, like many teenagers, acknowledges that he will do it begrudgingly. At the same time, Cynthia Murphy (played by wonderful Jennifer Laura Thompson), is trying to keep her family together and convince her loner son, Connor Murphy (portrayed by the fascinating Mike Faist), to attend school and have a good year and she tries to convince her husband, Larry (played by brilliant Michael Park), to get involved, but he chooses to stay at arm’s length. While attempting this, she tries to connect Connor to her daughter, Zoe Murphy (played by captivating Laura Dreyfuss), as well as herself to no avail.
On Evan’s first day back, he tries to connect with other classmates and get them to sign his arm cast caused from an accident from the summer and encounters Alana Beck (Kristolyn Lloyd) and Jared Kleinman (Will Roland), who provide some of the funnier moments of the show, but who also deliver strong performances as doses of reality to Evan. Both characters become large parts of Evan’s life as he writes that letter, but Connor intercepts it and when he commits suicide, the letter takes on a new life of its own. When Evan is thought to be the friend that Connor’s family never knew he had, Evan becomes an important member of the community and Connor’s family. It also brings Evan closer to the girl of his dreams, Zoe. So the show grapples with how far one will go to achieve the things that they want through a lie. What will they do to retain it? What will the aftermath be?
“Dear Evan Hansen” is written by Steven Levenson (The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, Core Values), with the music and lyrics written by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek (A Christmas Story, Dogfight, James and the Giant Peach, La La Land December 9th). Michael Greif (Rent, Grey Gardens, Next to Normal) directs the show with choreography by Danny Mefford (Fun Home, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, Bridges of Madison County). The music supervisor and orchestrator is Alex Lacamoire (Hamilton, In the Heights) with David Korins (Hamilton, Misery, Motown, Grease Live) handling scenic design and Peter Nigrini (An Act of God, The Heidi Chronicles) overseeing projection design.
This show is quite simply a brilliant piece of modern theater. With the evolution of social media, the recent election, and bullying, our society has many people who are feeling disenchanted, lost, and irrelevant. We can all identify with regret and wanting to be recognized for being good at something. We are all familiar with the phrase that life gets better. “Dear Evan Hansen” depicts all those things with beauty and honesty. Lead by Ben Platt, this ensemble will connect the audience with all the social groups in society that interact with everyday. Platt’s portrayal of Evan, a socially awkward introvert (right down to strange rambling and sweaty palms when talking to Zoe) takes you right back to high school. They will also explore their feelings of the goals that they truly hope to achieve in life. It is an “I want ” musical. I want to belong, to love, to be loved, or I want my child to be happy, to talk to me, to love me. But the musical also asks how much do you want it? How much do you want to believe you have it and how will you keep it? It is fitting that it is in the Music Box Theatre where another insightful and wonderful show, Pippin (by Stephen Schwartz) played there. Coincidentally, Rachel Bay Jones played Catherine in the revival.
The story is incredibly complete show with smart, fast-moving dialogue at times. The musical’s storyline actually lie in an event that happened while Benj Pasek was in high school. Levenson’s book strikes me as a young Aaron Sorkin. It is quick-witted, purposeful, and insightful. The music and lyrics are all amazingly poignant songs that will connect the audience to a family member or an event in their lives. In fact, many of the songs in this show will be sung by adults and teens with more emotion and connection than you will believe. I would also venture to say that the song, “You Will Be Found”, will become an anthem for musical theatre groups and show choirs immediately. The minimalist set and projects truly provide insight for older adults in what it is like to be living as a teenager in present day society. It also provides young adults and teenagers the insight into what a parent’s aspirations are for their child. In the end, “Dear Evan Hansen” will remind you that we all want something in life and that we all “want to be found”.
Dear Evan Hansen
Four out of Four Stars, Critic Recommended Must See
Music Box Theatre
239 W 45th St.
New York, NY 10036
Credits Book Writer- Steven Levenson; Music and Lyrics- Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; Director- Michael Greif; Choreographer- Danny Mefford; Music Supervision and Orchestration- Alex Lacamoire; Scenic Design- David Korins; Projection Design- Peter Nigrini
Cast- Ben Platt, Laura Dreyfuss, Rachel Bay Jones, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Mike Faist, Michael Park, Will Roland, Kristolyn Lloyd, Michael Lee Brown, Garrett Long, Olivia Puckett, Colton Ryan, Asa Somers
Preview November 14th, 2016
Opened December 4th, 2016
Photo: Matthew Murphy