Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Review of "Dear Evan Hansen"

The show Dear Evan Hansen is an electrifying, captivating new musical with an emotionally powerful and praiseworthy performance by Ben Platt in the lead role.

Evan Hansen is an extremely anxious high school student, on medication and seeing a therapist for his sometimes debilitating condition.  He has no friends and, for all intents and purposes, is invisible to his peers.  He is alone, until a classmate commits suicide. Through an escalating series of lies, fueled by unceasing and insatiable social media networks, his stature and presence begin to change with unanticipated and distressing results.

Ben Platt from "Dear Evan Hansen."

The book by Steven Levenson is an emotional rollercoaster of impassioned scenes and straightforward honesty that connects to today’s teenagers.  The story can sometimes be agonizing to watch as the characters try to negotiate the new landscape that is developing, changing, and spiraling out of control all at once.  But Dear Evan Hansen is not just about angst and crisis.  It also focuses on the a multitude of relationships that are spawned and changed from the events on stage. 
The score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul is heartfelt with penetrating lyrics that explore the inner turmoil Evan is going through as he confronts a new reality.  The songs can be raucous with an in-your-face impact.  They are playful, with a serious undertone.  And there are tender ballads that reach to the depths of the character’s souls as well as reveal the agony individuals feel upon the death of a son.
The cast of "Dear Evan Hansen."
The cast, led by Ben Platt, is impressive, imbuing their characters with an intensity and delicacy that can be poignant as well as somber.  Platt is the anchor.  He is almost always on stage and singing the majority of the score.  From his first entrance on stage, with nervous tics and darting eyes, you realize this is a young man that has fully taken his acting prowess to a heightened level.  He is believable and authentic.  The other members of the acting troupe include Laura Dreyfus as the sister of the deceased student, Zoe Murphy, and the one who Evan pines for.  The young actress deftly projects a lost innocence and whirlwind of emotions as she tries to make sense of the sudden change in her family dynamics and personal life.  Rachel Bay Jones, as Evan’s mother Heidi, aptly portrays a mother frustrated and panicked over a son she cannot reach.  Jennifer Laura Thompson is superb as Cynthia Murphy, mother of the departed son.  Her grief and confusion strikes a chord with the audience.  Your body quivers with compassionate understanding as she pleas for any scrap of information about her enigmatic boy.  Michael Park as the father, Larry Murphy, gives a finely etched portrait of a man aloof, at first, over the death of his son, who gradually begins to wrestle with his feelings, as he tries to come to grips with the sudden shake-up in his life.  Mike Faist as Connor Murphy, the high school student who suddenly dies, gives a nicely layered performance in life and death. Will Roland as Evan’s “relationship friend,” Jared Kleinman, provides a good dose of comic relief to off-set the weighty mood of the show.  Kristolyn Lloyd as high school classmate, Alana Beck, gives an understated and compelling performance.  She is not unlike Evan Hansen in her anxiety and timidity.
Laura Dreyfus and Ben Platt from "Dear Evan Hansen."
Director Michael Greif, who has sensitively helmed other musicals with dysfunctional characters such as Next to Normal and Grey Gardens, skillfully guides the production from its inauspicious beginnings through to its cathartic ending.  He smartly keeps Ben Platt center stage—aching and trying to find his pathway through the storm he has unleashed--with the other characters swirling around his nexus.  Greif artfully incorporates the social media maelstrom through pulsating, ever-changing screens.  He also intelligently allows the material to unfold naturally without calling undue attention to the series of events that are unfurling onstage.

The creative team of scenic designer David Korins, Projection Designer Peter Nigrini, Lighting Designer Japhy Weideman and Sound Designer Nevin Steinberg show their expertise and presentation skills during scenes where the stage of the Music Box theater is transformed into a hive of activity with screens projecting social media buzz, lights and sound amplifying the dramatic tension. 
Ben Platt in "Dear Evan Hansen."
Dear Evan Hansen, a gripping, dazzling new musical that speaks openly and directly to the culture of today.

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