Dear Evan Hansen: Third Time’s the Charm

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Dear Evan Hansen: Third Time’s the Charm

by Ross

Well I got my wish. It has arrived. Finally. After seeing Dear Evan Hansen at Arena Stage, Washington, DC in August of 2015, I wrote a review asking the theatre gods to bring this fantastic show to Broadway. The review is simply titled ‘Dear Evan Hansen, Please Come to Broadway‘. And finally, after an acclaimed run at Second Stage off Broadway, the show that I fell in love with that summer has made it; opening tonight at the Music Box Theater. The musical is as devastatingly beautiful as when I first encountered it. With music and lyrics by Ben J Pasek & Justin Paul, and a book by Steven Levenson, Dear Evan Hansen has not lost any of its power and tension. It soars with an intense beauty that still captures our hearts and plays havoc with it all at the same time, even on third viewing. Tearing it into pieces and than stitching it back together.

deh-ben-platt-jennifer-laura-thompson-michael-park-0480-photo-credit-matthew-murphyBen Platt, who originated the part in DC, is just plain pitch perfect and award worthy as the overly anxious and uncomfortable teen at the center of this story. In my first review of the show in 2015, I wrote that whenever I watch a television show or film in which the lead character tells a lie, for even the best of reasons, and that lie becomes the driving force behind the action, I always get extremely anxious as we watch the lie become so large and out of control that we know that disaster is eminent.  We want to yell “NO” as we watch him begin, and we also know that Evan must eventually come clean or risk exposure. The feeling is so uncomfortable that we want to look away. But we can’t. We watch with the knowledge that the lie, growing in meaning and power, will bring shame and judgment by those affected. We see this on Platt’s face, see it in his body, and hear it in his voice; the desperation, the fear, the desire for love, and the discomfort in just being him. It’s a very affecting performance, one that feels irreplicable, and devastatingly memorable. And will most likely net him a Tony nomination this coming spring.
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Joining him in that category is Laura Dreyfuss.  Giving us a beautiful and fresh look at the complicated Zoe Murphy, the object of Evan’s love. Her voice is subtle, quivering with truth, hope, and pain, and feels like something outside of the norm on Broadway. Don’t take this the wrong way, but in both Platt and Dreyfuss’s performance, there is a perfect layer of trembling emotional weakness and fragility, fear and anxiety, balanced with a power and a range that is majestic.  https://youtu.be/s1Evnzkez7o
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Overall, not much has changed with Dear Evan Hansen beyond a tightening of its components. Visually it’s as perfect and awe-inspiring as it was off broadway.  Maybe even more so (kudos to scenic design: David Korins, lighting design: Japhy Weideman, costume design: Emily Rebholz, sound design: Nevin Steinberg, music director: Ben Cohn).  The projection design by Peter Nigrini should get a cast credit all for itself, as it is so integral and effective. So solid is this Broadway transfer.
deh-mike-faist-ben-platt-0104-photo-credit-matthew-murphyMaybe, as it is my third time seeing the show, the discomfort I spoke about earlier, is not so over powering and prevalent now in the forefront of my reaction. And maybe because of that, I’m able to experience all the other layers of sadness and desperation to a greater degree. Each time I watch this show, the power and depth of the emotionality seems to dive deeper into the pain and discomfort. What I’ve discovered is that beyond the impressive work by Platt and Dreyfuss, the true core of sadness and confusion comes in the collective souls of the mothers of the two teenage boys, Evan and Connor Murphy (a perfect, real, and then imagined portrayal by Mike Faist). Jennifer Laura Thompson, as Connor and Zoe’s mom, struggles with an intense desperation to deal with first, her home life and then secondly, the family trauma that tears into our hearts as much as we see it play havoc with her own.  That loss and the confusion adds the layer of pain that makes this story really sing. But the real heartbreak lies in, what I can only imagine will be a Tony nominated performance by Rachel Bay Jones, Evan’s overwhelmed and stressed out mother, Heidi.  It’s such a solid and unique turn on the single parent trying her best to do the right thing for her troubled son, and failing at times.  She is struggling and off balance.  Desperately trying to engage with her son, but also trying hard not to forget about her own self.  There is not one inauthentic moment in her performance. Her second act song, ‘So Big/So Small’ is heart breaking and utterly captivating, and I can well imagine that there isn’t one dry eye in the house.
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Emotionally, this musical lies somewhere in the realism of Spring Awakening and Fun Home. It’s shattering, real, and immensely sad at moments.  The first few songs, ‘This’ll Be The Year’ and ‘Waving Through A Window‘ (https://youtu.be/x_CNqKA2t9M) pull us into the world of the lonely, troubled teen with a surprising ease and intensity, and we gladly join this stunning ride.  The ending in the park always has felt a little too quick and easy, and I’m not sure if I ever feel completely content with the final moments, but all in all, Dear Evan Hansen, directed by Michael Greif and choreographed by Danny Medford, delivers us a deeply felt rich story, and one that you should all be Tap Tap Taping on that box office window for your chance to experience Platt, Dreyfuss, Jones, and the extraordinary Dear Evan Hansen.
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