|DEAR EVAN HANSEN|
Anyone who has ever felt unloved, rejected, isolated, or barely survived high school (have I left anyone out?) will relate to Dear Evan Hansen, the heart-stirring and often shattering new musical at The Music Box Theatre. But it’s not just the show’s universal and topical subject matter, smarty explored by Steven Levenson’s mostly well-written book or Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s lovely, deeply felt score, that lends the work such pathos.
What makes Evan Hansen so special, and oddly lovable, is the brave and extraordinarily raw performance by Ben Platt in the title role. His Evan is a painfully shy, anxiety-ridden high school senior (probably suffering from Asperger’s disease), whose loneliness is augmented by the fact that his single mother Heidi (the amazing Rachel Bay Jones) -- who works as a nurse and takes night classes as a paralegal -- is barely home.
The show opens on the first day of Evan’s senior year, a letter that he’s written to himself (per the advice of his therapist) is stolen by fellow loner Connor Murphy (Mike Faist, imbuing a potentially hateful character with surprising sweetness). When Connor kills himself and his grieving parents (Michael Park and Jennifer Laura Thompson) decide that letter is actually their son’s suicide note. Evan not only goes along with the charade, but extends it to create a fantasy friendship with Connor.
It’s a big lie – one that he’s been warned against creating by creepy family friend Jared (a funny Will Roland) and one that quickly escalates, especially after hyper-achieving classmate Alana (Kristolyn Lloyd) gets involved. And when a video Evan makes goes viral on the Internet, it ultimately changes not only Evan’s life – especially his relationship with Connor’s sweet, unhappy sister Zoe (a lovely Laura Dreyfuss, making the most of an underwritten role) – but the world at large.
Director Michael Greif, scenic designer David Korins and projection designer Peter Negrini use scrims full of the Internet as the show’s primary visual design, which is both quite appropriate to the material and makes a worthy commentary on the power (for good and evil) of social media. More importantly, this minimalist approach to set design somehow fills the Music Box stage.
So does Pasek and Paul’s haunting score, which is highlighted by such memorable tunes as “Waving Through a Window,” “For Forever,” and “You Will Be Found.” Nonetheless, I wish these super-talented young men could have found something substantial for Thompson to sing (although she does a first-rate job acting as Connor and Zoe’s self-absorbed mother) or penned a tune with a little more heft for Park than the slightly banal “To Break in a Glove.” Thankfully, though, towards the end of Act II, they allow the sublime Jones to let loose with the remarkable “So Big/So Small,” in which she plaintively recalls her terror at becoming a single mom. (Trust me, Jones could get a Tony Award for just performing that song!)
Still, when it comes to awards time, you can be sure Platt will be remembered. Not only is he blessed with a strong yet supple voice, he fully inhabits every fiber of Evan’s being, and every gesture and movement he makes seems completely organic. In the end, Dear Evan Hansen is both a must-see musical and a tribute to the singular talents of its rising star.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Ben Platt, Laura Dreyfuss, Rachel Bay Jones, Jennifer Laura Thompson, Mike Faist, Michael Park, Will Roland, Kristolyn Lloyd
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 11/14/2016
Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036