THE EDGE Entertainment » Theatre
Dear Evan Hansen
by Wickham Boyle
Monday Dec 12, 2016
“Dear Evan Hansen” brings adolescent angst, cheers and tears to Broadway and the brilliant, breakout star carrying these messages is Ben Platt. This is the show I predict will win the TONY for best new musical, and I am near to never drawn to make pronouncements like that. But I can’t help myself.
Evan Hansen is a lonely teen struggling to fit in and find himself in some vibrant way in the terrifying corridors of his high school and his blinkered life. He has no friends; he has tormentors and teasers and a single mom, the brilliant, big-voiced Rachel Bay Jones, loving him but working long hours and then studying to be a paralegal.
Evan is cut off from everyone. He seems to evince some symptoms of being on the autism spectrum: repetitive movements, an inability to engage with others comfortably, certain tics and motions — and Ben Platt has embodied all of this to perfection. When in the opening Evan Hansen and his mother sing “Anybody Have a Map” the shivers and tears begin.
Platt’s voice is enormous and then retreats to a tiny child’s whimper asking for help. How do I find myself, where do I go, is there a map to help me? This is what we have all asked time and time again. The mom, Heidi, also asks for a road map to rearing a very removed teenage son who wants distance and privacy more than anything, and the mom’s wild desire to connect is as painful as Evan’s is to find distance. This is the dance of this show: how to connect, how to protect and the lies and wrong steps we may take as we attempt to do this.
The show steps off when Evan writes an Atta Boy letter to himself, as per his therapist suggestions. You go Evan: You can do it, etc. The note is intercepted by the school bully Connor, who is well played with an unctuous air of threat by Mike Faist. Connor taunts Evan with the note, but in the next scene, we learn that Connor has his own lonely demons as he has committed suicide.
The rest of the play unfurls like a roller coaster ride involving Evan’s lies to Connor’s family, mom Cynthia, a wonderfully sad and silver-voiced Jennifer Laura Thompson and her stern husband Larry, who is brought to life by Michael Park and seems chiseled from a block of wood, until he melts, being the surrogate father to Evan.
Yes, it’s complicated, and the machinations continue. Evan carries a torch for Connor’s little sister, the very lithe and lovely Laura Murphy. And the fights between the rich Murphys and the aspirational working-class Hansens never seem to muddy the emotional waters that spill over the stage at the Music Box.
Add to these nuclear families two more classmates, the uber-motivated Alana, the girl who joins every club, has Excel spreadsheets for college applications and tries so darn hard and yet is still scared and lonely. Kristolyn Lloyd brings her to life.
The final character in the high school yearbook is the goad and nerd Jared Kleinman whose Cheshire cat grin, and a willingness to falsify emails to create a trail attesting to a firm friendship with Connor and Evan. Jared is played by Will Roland with a fine voice and great acting chops.
The usual landscape of teen anxiety has been ratcheted up to a new high with the advent and ubiquity of social media. Bullying and cyber warfare continue 24/7, and many children succumb to suicide because of it. The producers of the play manage to portray technology as an integral character by the inspired use of screens and scrolls projecting texts and showing how information can go viral and completely transforming what should have been small personal moments into global explosions from which it is impossible to distance oneself. This is achieved with David Korin’s set and Peter Nigrini’s swirling projections.
This work is a musical and the sounds emanating from the small orchestra and the huge voices are haunting, lilting and just glorious. The composers and lyricists work together and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul I hope are basking in their creation. Of course the synthesis for a show like “Dear Evan Hansen” comes from directorial chops and an innate sense of rhythm and cohesiveness brought by a director like Michael Greif.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is a show that makes us ponder and wonder and we may cry or cheer. We can see ourselves and our families on the stage, and certainly I hope that many teens will be in the audience to recognize as the anthem that closes act one says, “You Will Be Found.”
“Dear Evan Hansen” enjoys an extended run at the Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St. in Midtown West. For information or tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://dearevanhansen.com/