|Photo by Matthew Murphy|
|Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen|
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Review by Margret Echeverria
10 December 2016
When my eyes are wet and it’s all I can do to not join the dialogue on the stage and my giggle box has completely turned over, I am having a really really good time. This reviewer is not a huge fan of musicals by any means – too much distraction and not enough story in most cases – but Dear Evan Hanson is a show that holds you tight with its honesty of story told in a way that delights you to your very toes.
Every aspect of what you see, hear and feel hums in perfect harmony throughout the piece. The songs, by Benj Passek and Justin Paul, are poetic expressions of real human stuff that dove tails perfectly with the storytelling. Nowhere to be found is that smile-and-move-your-hands song break that must be endured before we get back to the meat of the matter.
The shame of being human is never more tender than when one is in high school. Our hero, Evan Hansen (Ben Platt), is a sweet senior in high school who is socially challenged, prescription medicated, adored by his single mother, Heidi Hanson (Rachel Bay Jones), has a therapist and has a crush on a girl named Zoe Murphy (Laura Dreyfuss). We want Evan to win because he is just totes adorbs as he struggles to express himself, control his outbursts and fulfill expectations to complete the assignment his therapist gave him this week – to write an encouraging letter to himself every day. Platt is perfection as that kid you remember from your high school, whom you likely owe a huge apology, as he chokes on nearly every word before it bursts out of him loaded with the urgency only a teenager can assign to his own expression.
The unrequited Zoe’s family is a mother, Cynthia Murphy (Jennifer Laura Thompson), father, Larry Murphy (Michael Park) and a brother, Connor Murphy (Mike Faist). Connor is also socially challenged and prone to outbursts. But Connor is self-medicated and at war with his parents who are at war with one another. Zoe does her best to avoid the cross-fire.
These mothers have something in common and the song “Anybody Have A Map?” can only bring the damp eyes of recognition to many of us also wishing our special needs kids came with manuals. I’ve met the mothers Jones and Thompson are and I’ve put on the masks they do to face the world and hide the complete lack of clue we have about our matriarchal responsibilities.
Connor and Evan have a run in between classes at school which is verbally hurtful and ends in Connor shoving Evan to the floor. Zoe tries to smooth things over in a scene saturated with teenage angst, misunderstanding and vulnerability, which is, of course, very funny. Dreyfuss is beautiful. Her voice and manner are the romantic poetry you remember from when you idealized young love. You will fall hard for her. Later, when it looks like the boys might mend, Connor finds one of Evan’s letters on a printer in the lab at school. The letter describes Evan’s hope for a future with Zoe. Connor, at first, thinks this is seriously creepy and then with the warp speed of a bored teen looking for a problem, Connor decides this is a ruse by Evan to upset him enough to stimulate another rage episode and make everyone else in school think Connor is crazy. Faist is flawless as he gives us the really hard to love boy teen narcissistic asshole who misdirects his passion against his own best interests. We know this kid, too. He’s the one who didn’t make it.
And this is only the beginning of the misunderstanding of Evan’s letter to himself, which quickly becomes public – nay, let’s modernize that; it goes viral. Writer, Steven Levenson, has given us a story that could be told around a dinner table right now. Social media is cast in the role of Monster Maker.
I cannot bear to give any more away as Dear Evan Hansen, in my opinion, is required viewing, but I do want to shout out a few more nuggets about the production before I leave you with orders to immediately purchase your tickets. Evan’s friend-because-the-family-says-he’s-a friend, Jared Kleinman (Will Roland), is a power house of comic expression charged with extreme mischief. Kleinman wrecked my kidneys with laughter. Connor’s “acquaintance,” Alana Beck (Kristolyn Lloyd), is the poseur girl you knew in school. Lloyd exposes the loneliness of that girl causing you to, of all things, forgive her. The first dancing sequence, choreographed by Danny Mefford. between Jared, Connor and Evan is a total squeal; I wanted to see it again immediately. Thompson brilliantly portrays an irrationally hopeful mother so well that, even though we know she is deceived, we catch ourselves coming along with it. Platt’s performance is beyond sublime – every reviewer will tell you this. But the added bonus is the stunningly beautiful work of Jones. The journey Heidi Hanson takes in this story is the most transformative of all the characters and Jones acts without a filter giving us every ugly and beautiful detail of her character's growth shamelessly.
The songs and dance in this show move the story forward – thank you, God – rather than stopping the action and causing you to look at your watch. Two hours and twenty-five minutes fly by and this musical poo-pooer wished there had been more. Yes. Really. Also, the scenic design by David Korins and the lighting design by Japhy Weideman work in the most perfect concert of technical genius I have ever seen in any production ever. Director, Michael Greif, pulled together way more than a schmaltzy musical here. Who knew?
Don’t just sit there, get tickets. Get tickets for your whole family and your best buddies. Give a pair of tickets to the person who delivers your mail.
What the popular press said...
"The marvelous young actor Ben Platt is giving a performance that’s not likely to be bettered on Broadway this season. What’s more, this gorgeous heartbreaker of a musical...has grown in emotional potency during its journey to the big leagues, after first being produced in Washington and Off Broadway. Rarely – scratch that — never have I heard so many stifled sobs and sniffles in the theater."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"'Dear Evan Hansen' takes its title from letters Evan writes himself as therapy. The show's so satisyfing it deserves a thank you note."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Simply put: Platt is giving one of the greatest leading male performances I’ve ever seen in a musical, and the thrillingly modern and moving Dear Evan Hansen is worthy of it."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"Then, there’s Platt in a class all to himself, with the impeccable instincts of both a comedian and tragedian while singing his heart and guts out. An incomparable performance that ranks among the finest in years. 'Dear Evan Hansen' may be the story of a nerdy teenager, but it’s that rare show that connects and enlightens all of us."
Roma Torre for NY1
"The show was already impressive in its lauded off-Broadway premiere at Second Stage Theatre earlier this year, directed with as much vitality as sensitivity by Michael Greif. But the characterizations now seem even more fully lived-in and the connective tissue among the ensemble — whether playing biological or adoptive family, young lovers or high school acquaintances thrust into an uneasy friendship of convenience — has genuine sparks."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"Through the alchemy of Michael Greif, who directed the original productions at Arena Stage and at Second Stage, Broadway’s Music Box Theater proves a perfect fit for this sensitive musical starring a sensational Ben Platt as a neurotic misfit trying to survive senior year in high school. As for the music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul: Not since “Next to Normal” has a score tapped so deeply into the troubled psyche of its needy protagonist."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...
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