Having enjoyed “Dear Evan Hansen” when it was presented off-Broadway at the Second Stage, I was curious to see how it fared when revived in a larger Broadway house, and the result is just as dynamic and moving. If anything, the larger space offers the opportunity for broader flash in the background design of Facebook-age technology.
The cast is mostly the same as in the previous incarnation, and I see no reason to try to revise what I wrote previously, apart from pointing out that “Dear Evan Hansen” takes its place as a major musical on Broadway that deserves to find a new audience, especially one on the youthful side.
The flashing visual scenic backgrounds of texting, emails, Facebook entries and photos are an eyeful. They set the tone for the contemporary high school atmosphere in which an appealing story of teenage problems both entertains and provides an emotional charge. The entire show is marked by creativity both in staging and performance.
Ben Platt is outstanding throughout in reprising the title role of the production, which has a clever book by Steven Levenson and involving music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. When we first meet Evan, he is an unhappy, withdrawn, desperate and frenetic young man who has no high school friends and is too meek to try to establish relationships. A therapist has suggested that he write letters to himself.
That sets up the plot. One of these letters is mistakenly taken to be from Connor Murphy (Mike Faist), an off-putting, unfriendly youth with his own problems. Connor has rebelled against his parents, who are annoyed at his lack of scholastic interest, and when he commits suicide, the grieving parents want to see more of the emails of the purported correspondence. Evan and his mischievous schoolmate Jared (Will Roland) conspire to write emails that fuel the false picture of an adoring friendship between Connor and Evan. There is also a resulting social media frenzy.
Connor’s parents (warmly played by Michael Park and Jennifer Laura Thompson) regard Evan as a replacement for their son and give him a close relationship that he never felt at home, despite the heroic efforts of his divorced mom Heidi (Rachel Bay Jones). Besides, Evan has a secret crush on Connor’s sister Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss) that now begins to flower.
With Connor dead, students begin raising funds for a memorial orchard to recall the woods where Evan and Connor are supposed to have bonded. We know, of course, that truth must out, but how it all happens, revealed with story and music, is inventively evolved, and by the end of the show, there is an emotional impact, especially for Connor’s parents, Evan’s mother, and Evan and Zoe.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is one of those shows that can captivate teenagers, boys and girls alike. The high school connection is captured so that all seems very contemporary and the emotions generated hit home.
The most moving number, “Only Us,” is tenderly and assertively sung by Evan and Zoe, but a host of well-integrated numbers expertly express various characters and situations. The visual impact cannot be over-stressed, with scenic design by David Korins, lighting design by Japhy Weideman and projection design by Peter Nigrini. The sound design by Nevin Steinberg also has a major impact. Michael Grief has directed with expert meshing of the show’s many ingredients, including the choreography by Danny Mefford.
The staging is especially vivid and the book, although on occasion a bit cumbersome in required plot resolutions in the second act, is enlivened by arresting ideas, such as the entertaining appearances of Connor after his suicide to add amusingly wry perspective. We are ultimately made to feel not only for Evan, but for just about everyone else. “Dear Evan Hansen” is not only an enjoyable show, but an admirable one that bears repeat viewing to absorb all of its energy and imagination. At the Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200.