Regional Reviews: Seattle
Dear Evan Hansen
The show with book by Steven Levenson and score by Benj Pasek (music) and Justin Paul (lyrics) speaks to the outsider in all of us. Evan Hansen is a teenager plagued with social anxiety and no real friends. His therapist recommends that he write letters to himself detailing what will be good about each day. This sets in motion a musical dramedy with laughs and tears, all realistically enough portrayed. Heidi Hansen is an overtaxed divorcee/single mom, neglecting Evan because she works two jobs. The only people Evan even converses with at school are Alana, a precocious but somewhat self-absorbed classmate, and Jared, his only (family) friend.
Across town, the wealthy Murphy familyCynthia, Larry, and their children Zoe and Connorsit down to breakfast. Zoe and Larry berate Connor for getting high before school, while Cynthia struggles with the fact that her family is falling apart. Later, at school, Evan runs afoul of Connor's erratic temper due to a misunderstanding, and Zoe apologizes to Evan, who has had an unrequited long-time crush on her.
Evan, printing one of his letters in the school's computer lab, encounters Connor again, now much more subdued than he was in the morning, offering to sign a cast Evan is wearing, which no one else has signed. He reads Evan's letter (which he grabbed from the printer as a favor) and becomes furious at the mention of Zoe, thinking Evan intended for him to see the letter in order to make fun of him. He storms out, taking the letter with him. Connor misses school a few days, heightening Evan's anxiety. (Spoiler alert: Don't read the rest of this paragraph if you hate spoilers). Later, he is taken to the principal's office and informed that Connor committed suicide. Evan's letter was found in his pocket, which leads the Murphys to assume it was a suicide note. Evan under duress, says they were secret (platonic) friends. This lie leads to many more, and both families' lives are changed profoundly by what ensues.
Director Michael Grief, who steered both Rent and Next to Normal to Broadway acclaim, has just the right touch for shows that go heavy on the story and songs, dispensing with minimal choreography (though skillfully employed here by choreographer Danny Mefford). Levenson's script rarely takes a wrong step, and the Pasek and Paul score is my favorite of their work to date (which also includes A Christmas Story and The Greatest Showman). The songs are fully intertwined with the script and seem to work perfectly well for those who only know the score, without seeing the show.
The touring cast, many of them Broadway vets, are actor/singers of a high order. In the title role on opening night, Stephen Christopher Anthony, listed as an alternate for top-billed Ben Levi Ross, more than proved his mettle, giving social anxiety a face not seen often, if ever, in a musical. Anthony sings the role as if it were written for him and plays off the rest of the amazing cast with great chemistry. Maggie McKenna is limpid voiced and plays her comic and dramatic moments with great charm and sincerity.
Jessica Phillips is amusingly annoying as Heidi, an almost sitcom type of mom, but shifts gears and has towering and powerful moments of raw emotion when Evan's lies are revealed to her. Christiane Noll, a favorite of mine from many musicals, is disarmingly sweet and heartbreaking as Connor's mother Cynthia. Another Broadway regular, Aaron Lazar, as Connor's father shares a really poignant duet "To Break in a Glove" with Anthony's Evan. Marrick Smith makes a great impression as the anguished and angry Connor, while Phoebe Koyabe as Alana and Jared Goldsmith as Jared contribute strongly, adding pathos and undertones of despair to roles that are basically comic relief.
Scenic design by David Korins and projection design by Peter Negrini meld to convey just how techno-filled and intrusive media has become in the 21st century. Japhy Weideman's lighting design is quite impressive, and Emily Rebholz's costume designs seem exactly right for the characters. Musical director Austin Cook and the fine small onstage band definitely do right by score, and sound designer Nevin Steinberg's work is top notch.
Fair warning, if this review entices you, tickets for the run is are nearly sold-out. But check-out the digital lottery, which begins accepting entries 48 hours prior to the first performance in each city, and accepts them until 9 a.m. local time the day before the performance. Patrons interested in entering the lottery for Seattle or future tour stops can visit: www.luckyseat.com/dearevanhansen/.
Dear Evan Hansen, through February 2, 2019, at the Paramount Theatre, 9th and Pine, Seattle WA. For tickets and more info go to www.stgpresents.org. For more information on the tour, visit dearevanhansen.com/tour/.