by Sandi Durell
This isn’t your usual Broadway musical – it’s better! It’s funny, sad, tragic and filled with great heart. Moving from it’s recent off Broadway run at Second Stage Theatre, it quickly opened on Broadway and, of recent days, there is a ticket lottery and advance sales of $10 million.
The melodic and lyrically moving music is by the winning team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul ((A Christmas Story: The Musical, Dogfight, La La Land film), with book by Steven Levenson. This is a powerful story of a young high school misfit (perhaps somewhat autistic) played by the remarkable Ben Platt whose physical and emotionally nuanced performance is so compelling and sensitive that one is in awe.
Evan is lonely, shy with no friends so his therapist prescribes not only drugs but writing a daily letter to himself to lift his spirits and dreams and to begin the process of feeling good about who he is. He lives with his overworked mother (Rachel Bay Jones) who also attends school and is in charge of paying the bills after Evan’s father abandoned them years prior. Evan’s only ‘friend’ is a family relative Jared (Will Roland) who gets a kick out of making fun of Evan. Finally, Evan writes a letter completely opposite to what the doctor ordered portraying his hopelessness except for Zoe . . . on whom he has a secret crush . . . “Dear Evan Hansen . . . all my hope is pinned on Zoe. Sincerely, your best and most dearest friend, Me”
Zoe Murphy (Laura Dreyfuss) comes from a well-to-do family and has a brother, Connor (Mike Faist), also a misfit, but a miserable and mean bully who, when meeting Evan at school in the computer room, steals Evan’s letter from the printer. Seeing a cast on Evan’s arm, Connor disdainfully scrawls his name in big letters and takes off. Shortly after this incident, Connor commits suicide. His parents find the letter thinking their son wrote it to Evan. In their bereavement, they are happy to know that Connor actually had a friend and invite Evan to their home. Evan cannot tell them the truth and so he lies saying he and Connor would meet by themselves, secretly, at an apple orchard; the lie grows bigger and bigger as he gives Connor’s parents and Zoe hope that there was something good about Connor.
As the word gets out, the kids at school start a movement to memorialize Connor, as if he were a celebrity, led by a pragmatic and dictatorial Alana (Kristolyn Lloyd) who has her own issues about loneliness, taking up Evan in the midst who now reaches celebrity status in their minds as well – a secret friendship between the two boys – very alluring. The story grows to unrealistic proportions, as each lie must be covered with another to keep perpetuating . . . mean streaked Jared is brought into the mix writing backdated secret emails between Connor and Evan to make the story more believable.
A mutually growing affinity develops between Evan and Connor’s parents Larry (Michael Park) and Cynthia (Jennifer Laura Thompson) and in spite of Evan’s awkwardness, a relationship with Zoe as well.
Alana inveigles Evan into a co-presidency in a Kickstarter campaign to collect $50K for the Connor Project to perpetuate the dying apple orchard as major social media efforts go viral and money starts flowing in. The deceptions grow to unreal proportions; everyone is now Evan’s friend and he is the center of attention. However, his mother is unaware of it all until she gets a call to join the Murphys for dinner where she learns her son has spent most of his evenings. It all blows up in Evan’s face as he can no longer deal with his deceptions and opts to do the right thing.
Michael Greif helms the cast with a magical directorial hand. This Broadway version of the production is more sensitive giving voice to a richer performance not only by Platt, who can rip your heart out, but allowing for a superb and deeply emotional, heartrending performance by Rachel Bay Jones. She is simply stunning in the role.
Mike Faist is powerful as Connor and happily doesn’t disappear after his death, but is frequently seen as a ghost in Evan’s mind.
Michael Park and Jennifer Laura Thompson are excellent in their roles as a loveless couple blaming each other, and Will Roland offers up spit n’ vinegar with humor.
Pasek and Paul’s score is memorable and lyrically driven giving specific meaning to songs “For Forever,” “You Will Be Found” and “Good for You.” Lest I forget, the voices of this cast just soar to grand heights.
The set design of multi-screens on which posts and tweets flash is by David Korins and enhanced by the projection genius of Peter Nigrini and Japhy Weideman’s lighting design.
Many Tony nominations and expected awards for this one!! Run, do not walk, to the Music Box Theatre to see this remarkable production that runs 2 hours and 25 minutes with intermission.
Dear Evan Hansen. Now playing at The Music Box Theatre (239 West 45 Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue). www.dearevanhansen.com
Photos: Matthew Murphy