‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Will Be Found

‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Will Be Found

Ben Platt as Evan Hansen in "Dear Evan Hansen" (©Matthew Murphy)

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today is going to be an amazing day, and here’s why. I saw the new Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen” last week and I can’t stop thinking about it.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is the story of a socially awkward and anxiety-fueled boy named Evan Hansen who has trouble communicating with his mom and other kids at school. He feels like a real outsider all the time, until he is mistaken to be the best friend of a recently deceased classmate. Instead of being able to fess up about the lie, he goes along with it because he sees that said lie is not only helping the grieving family, but also gaining him attention from his peers and the girl he’s had a crush on for years. However, this newfound confidence threatens to shatter as the lie grows. While my heart broke for Evan—even though he did some unconscionable things—my spirits were lifted at the same time.

You see, for me, Evan Hansen is one of the most relatable characters I’ve seen on stage. Though he has more tics than the second hand on a clock and always thinks his own hands are sweaty to the point where his hands become sweaty because he’s so worried about sweat that wasn’t there in the first place, I see myself in Evan and I know other people do and will too. Whether it’s his unwillingness to order food to be delivered (because even if it’s ordered via an app, you still have to talk to the delivery person and that could get awkward), or that he keeps his thoughts and feelings bottled up until they forcibly expel themselves from his body, I could empathize. I’ve never told a lie (or a series of lies) as big as he does, but I get where he’s coming from—the want and need to be seen and heard, even though that’s wholeheartedly daunting. 

Ben Platt’s performance as Evan Hansen is a gift that audiences should not take for granted. Besides being the kind of performance that an actor rarely delivers in his entire career, let alone in his 20s, Platt’s generosity with sharing Evan’s every feeling—even when Evan is desperate to hide them—is unfettered and beyond moving. There is beauty in every choice Platt makes with this character, especially when life and emotions get ugly. I’ve seen this show twice now (once last week and once when it was Off-Broadway earlier this year) and though it is emotionally draining to watch Platt, I would do it again and again in a heartbeat. I am in constant awe that he can sustain this level of controlled combustion eight shows a week. Live theater is fantastic because you get to see characters feel in real time and what Platt does with Evan Hansen each and every show is nothing short of amazing. Seeing him in this role will “For Forever” be one of the most memorable theatrical experiences of my life.

It’s not just Platt who shines on that stage, though. Every member of the cast pulls his or her weight to make “Dear Evan Hansen” outstanding. Rachel Bay Jones is heartbreaking as Heidi Hansen, the single mother who is doing her best to know and raise her secretive son. Laura Dreyfuss perfectly balances Zoe Murphy’s conflict between wanting to move on from her brother’s death and constantly being reminded by it at every turn. As grieving parents, Jennifer Laura Thompson and Michael Park (Cynthia and Larry Murphy, respectively) bring some of the most poignant moments of the show to light, often without saying a word. Mike Faist will make you remember Connor Murphy both as he was and how Evan hypes him up to be and his comedic timing is brilliantly twisted. As Evan’s only friend (well, family-friend), Broadway newcomer Will Roland gives an engaging performance as Jared, whose own arc as the dominant one in their friendship to a jealous sidekick is achingly relatable as well. In her Broadway debut, Kristolyn Lloyd stands out as Alana, the over-achiever who strives to keep Connor’s memory alive because it gives her purpose and attention. (Evan Hansen is definitely not the only lost kid at his school, and the kids are not the only lost characters in the show.)

“Dear Evan Hansen” features one of my favorite scores, with songs written by Tony Award nominees Benj Pasek and Justin Paul that are orchestrated by Tony Award-winner Alex Lacamoire. The lyrics to Evan’s anthem, “Waving Through a Window,” hit so close to home that I often wonder how two strangers managed to steal my inner thoughts and turn them into one of the most powerful sequences in the show. “Sincerely, Me” is a welcome light-hearted tune among the soul-yanking “Requiem,” “You Will Be Found” and “Words Fail,” among others.

The minimalist, but effective, production design from David Korins enables Evan’s story to be front and center. Peter Nigrini’s projection design brings the social media-driven aspects of the show to life, showcasing the snowball effect of both positive and negative reactions to viral videos. Emily Rebholz’s costumes, especially for Evan, are as important to these characters as Steven Levenson’s masterfully scripted dialogue and Pasek and Paul’s songs. (Pay close attention to the fit and style of Evan’s shirts and tops.) Director Michael Greif’s guidance is the hug that lovingly embraces this show and it’s so fitting that he captain this ship, after helming similarly emotional works like “Next to Normal” and “Rent.”

“Dear Evan Hansen” is a much-needed conversation starter for youths who feel lost, or adults who are having trouble connecting with younger loved ones. It’s hard to discuss mental health, but this musical’s words of hope are hopefully going to be heard by people who need a reminder that they are not alone. Gaging by the amount of sniffles I heard in the audience the night I saw the show (and my own damp face and sweater from the tears sliding down my cheeks during various points in the production), that message is already being received.

Sure to be one of the biggest hits of the season (and I expect will make numerous appearances on the 2017 Tony Awards ballot…), “Dear Evan Hansen” is now playing at the Music Box Theatre (239 W. 45th St., btw Broadway & Eighth Ave.). Click here for tickets. Sign up to enter the daily lottery for tickets here.

Sincerely, your best and most dearest friend,

Me.

The cast of "Dear Evan Hansen" (©Matthew Murphy)

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