Whenever I watch a television show or film in which the lead character tells a lie, for whatever reason, and that lie becomes the fuel for the plot, I always get extremely anxious for the point when the lie has become so large and out of control that the lead must get caught or come clean. I feel uncomfortable, sometimes so much that I have to stop watching the show or film. It becomes too stressful for me sitting with the knowledge that the lie, growing in meaning and power, will bring disaster in the guise of shame and judgment by those affected.
The introverted and anxious Evan (played by the super talented Ben Platt), the lead of Dear Evan Hansen, this exceptional new musical I was lucky enough to see at the lovely Arena Stage in Washington, DC, gets himself trapped and entangled in this very set up when a supposedly therapeutic letter to himself gets taken and misinterpreted. But instead of making me unbearably uncomfortable, this beautifully written piece (music and lyrics by Ben J Pasek & Justin Paul, book by Steven Levenson) drew me in even more emotionally to Evan’s difficult and troubled life, and the difficulty of being any high school student, lonely and confused, in this day and age. This is greatly due to the first few songs and scenes that instantly engage us and cause us to be deeply connected to this shy complicated teenager and his overwhelmed but loving mother, a wonderful Rachel Bay Jones (that I wish was utilized more, although that’s me just being greedy, as I think her character was perfectly crafted). Her performance broke my heart. And I needed to mention Laura Dreyfuss as the girl of Evan’s dreams, Zoe Murphy. Her voice swept me away. It’s something beyond a broadway voice. It’s rich and deeply moving in a way that I’m not used to hearing in musical theater.
The first two numbers, ‘This’ll Be The Year’ and ‘Waving Through A Window’ received such a strong reaction from this sold out crowd, that it was clear we were all there with him, loving him, and wanting him to triumph. And that was just the beginning. One after another, we were pulled in by these songs and these characters, hoping that everything turns out ok for Evan, but knowing the lie will eventually come out.
This show is not that simple though. And Platt gives us such a layered and detailed portrayal of this damaged sad boy, that how could we not be there with him, feeling his discomfort and yearning. He and the rest of the cast, directed by Michael Greif and choreographed by Danny Medford, delivered us a deeply felt rich story, and there was not a dry eye in the house by the time this musical comes to a beautifully real ending. I will gladly line up to see it again when it makes it way to Second Stage in NYC hopefully still with this pitch perfect cast and expertly designed production (David Korins/set, Emily Rebholz/costumes, Japhy Wiedeman/lighting and the amazing projections of Peter Nigrini), pulling us along on this uncomfortable and emotionally rich ride. I’ll be ‘tap tap tapping’ on that box office window, for sure.