Five Reasons to Love "Dear Evan Hansen, "On Tour
The Marcus Center kicked off its 2019-2020 Broadway series Tuesday night hosting the national tour of Dear Evan Hansen — one of the blockbusters that makes this an incredible season for subscribers, along with the long-awaited Hamilton and the much lauded The Band’s Visit. With six Tony Awards, a Grammy for best musical theater album, and an online fan base that grows exponentially with each new YouTube video that the cast posts, Dear Evan Hansen is a coup for the venue. Running through Sunday, September 29, this production is every bit as impressive as the original Broadway version, with a universally strong cast, gorgeous voices and a dizzying, innovative set.
When Dear Evan Hansen premiered on Broadway in 2016, the buzz around the new musical was that it was about teen suicide and the internet, had some great songs in the score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and revolved around a tour de force performance by Ben Platt. Platt, a rising star with previous roles in The Book of Mormon and the “Pitch Perfect” movies, played an atypical protagonist in a show about the difficulties of surviving high school when you are different from the other kids. Three years later, the show has garnered millions of fans — a lot of them from the younger, Hamilton demographic — and has been hailed as a deeply resonant and important story about the lengths some would go to in order to fit in.
Here are five reasons I’d recommend grabbing one of the remaining tickets for Dear Evan Hansen at the Marcus Center, and checking out the show for yourself:
· The Depth of Storytelling. With a book that does much more than just string musical numbers together, paired with smart lyrics and a tuneful, pop-influenced score, Dear Evan Hansen is the antithesis of teen-movie-turned-musical fluff. This show examines the desperation of both young people and their parents to communicate, to connect, and to feel less alone in an era with scant “family time” and a proliferation of screens. The complex characters and original plot of Dear Evan Hansen set it apart from a lot of hit Broadway properties and prove that challenging material is not only possible to include in this format, it can be transformative.
· The Cast. When part of your audience memorized the entire cast album the week it was released, there is a lot of pressure to replicate those original performances, down to every pause and inflection. (And judging from the high-pitched screams of delight coming from the audience opening night, many of those super-fans were in the audience.) But the tour resists those urges, allowing actors to put their own individual spin on both the lines and the songs. Most notably, there is not a moment when Stephen Christopher Anthony looks like he’s trying to do a Ben Platt imitation. He brings his own energy, mannerisms and humor to the awkward protagonist and is tremendous in the role. Jessica E. Sherman also imbues Evan’s mother with her own combination of frustration, stubbornness and love for her son, often forcing cheerfulness through pasted-on smiles while her panic grows. She brings down the house with her ferocious take on two emotion-packed songs, “So Big/So Small” and “Good for You.”
· The Internet as a Character. Visually, and as a major part of the plot, the show explores social media as a fact of modern life. Instead of a scary black hole or Orwellian superpower, Dear Evan Hansen paints Facebook and Instagram as extremely powerful tools of interconnected-ness that can amplify a single person’s voice and spread their message around the world. It also shows the downside of instant virtual fame, where trolls lurk to antagonize and torment just for fun. The show also demonstrates the runaway speed at which online stories can careen out of control — much like Evan’s well-meaning white lies at the beginning of the show grow into a Frankenstein’s monster of fabrications. With projections of Twitter and email feeds filling up translucent panels across the stage, then eventually overtaking the action with a cacophony of comments, it’s a visceral illustration of how easy it is for Evan, or any of us, to be overwhelmed.
· Real Moms — and Great Roles for Women over 35. The “mom” is an archetype of the ages. She is often little more than a piece of the furniture in family dramas. But the moms of both Connor and Evan are interesting, troubled, multi-faceted people who are trying to keep their family units together under stress from their relationships, jobs, their financial situations and the communication chasm that has grown between them and their teens. Instead of being strict, disapproving adults who “just don’t understand,” these moms admit immediately that they are out of their depth — literally “making it up” as they go — and trying as hard as they can to love, nurture and support their children. It’s a rare opportunity for women who are not the ingenues to have pivotal, three dimensional roles in a show that also focuses on the perspectives of the younger generation.
· Teenagers Who Look and Sound Like Teenagers. So, in real life teenagers swear. They lie to their parents. They lash out, get their hearts broken, and are hopelessly awkward around the opposite sex. Many deal with drug and mental health issues. Some sound like they are obsessed with sex. Others obsess over popularity and school success and their online personas. More than a few feel isolated, aching to be noticed. Most will find themselves in over their heads, at the center of messes of their own making, at some point. The characters of Connor (Noah Kieserman), Evan, Jared (Alessandro Costantini) and Alana (Ciara Alyse Harris) are all of these things and I guarantee, you’ve never heard any of their lines on a network sitcom. They are funny, intelligent and profane — trying to do the right thing, often failing as they flail through their teenage years.
And one final, bonus reason to get your tickets now: It’s NOT opening night. During the first show of this run there were consistent problems with the sound. (Since this has to be adjusted in each new theater on a tour, it’s not uncommon for sound glitches to occur during the first performance.) Problems with volume levels and mics cutting out altogether during pivotal scenes will probably be fixed, now that that tech crew understands the venue better.