There is something so exciting about seeing a show as it takes shape either in an out-of-town run or Off-Broadway. There was great buzz around the musical Dear Evan Hansen arriving into NYC after it's run at Arena Stage in DC last summer and though nervous about listening to buzz, we grabbed up our tickets to head to Second Stage Theatre to see what the show was all about.
Wow. What an incredible evening we had. From the very first song, I knew we were witnessing something truly special. With a book by Steven Levenson (playwright and writer for Showtime's "Masters of Sex") that reads like a YA novel and an amazing score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dogfight, A Christmas Story) this story is said to be for the outsider in us all. It's about that feeling of isolation that many high schoolers can feel. Think back to the movie "The Breakfast Club" and we learned no matter who you were in school, there was still a feeling of being alone and attempting to fit in. The people in Even Hansen know that all too well. Even if you are the nerd, the goth, the brain - each has their own secrets of wondering if anyone would notice if they disappeared.
The title is made clear fairly quickly as Evan is giving an assignment by his therapist to write affirmation letters to himself daily. But what happens if those letters can get in the wrong hands and a lie can snowball? Especially in the world of social media which can play such a huge part in those feelings of loneliness (and a huge part in the wonderful scenic and projection designs by David Korins and Peter Nigrini). I don't want to give much more of the plot away because like Next to Normal (which was also directed by Michael Greif who directed Evan and which this musical will likely be compared to by some reviewers), it's best to walk in knowing little about it and taking the journey with Evan Hansen. (I also want to give a shout out to Nevin Steinberg for some of the best sound design I've heard in a show recently.)
And what a beautifully, moving journey it is. Much is said about seeing a star performance by a theater or film legend that gives a live performance of their careers. Well there is a 22 year old young man giving that kind of performance nightly on 43rd street at Second Stage Theatre. Ben Platt is absolutely incredible as he inhabits the life and world of Evan Hansen. A high school senior that has such anxiety disorder he has tics, he takes medicine to calm himself, he sweats on command (how does this actor do this?) and he breaks your heart. Sitting on the third row of the theater and being so close to the actor, there were moments I just wanted to take him in my arms and tell him it was going to get better. THAT'S how real he plays this role. It is masterful performance with amazing vocals singing the beautiful score by Pasek & Paul. (How any actor ever sings through tears on stage always baffles me - this one can sing through an ugly cry.)
The rest of the cast is also just as wonderful with huge kudos going to Rachel Bay Jones playing his mother who is simply trying to raise a son she can't connect to while working on a single parent salary. Countering her is the wealthy Murphy family (who has their own issues with a son) and Jennifer Laura Thompson and John Dossett show their own layers in this family, especially when the situation brings Evan Hansen into their lives. Laura Dreyfuss and Mike Faist play their children in this dysfunctional family. Rounding out the cast are Kristolyn Lloyd and Will Roland as other classmates who some may feel are there for comic relief in a fairly heavy show, but I see under the comedy they also have issues of fitting in they are dealing with.
I really can't wait to see what happens next with this show. It is already so powerful, but I'm sure like others before it, it will continue to morph and change until all the kinks are worked out. I do hope they release a cast recording while they continue working on the inevitable road to a small Broadway house for this show because I need to hear this music over and over.
Bravo and thank you to the creative team for tackling this story and giving us a story we often need to be reminded of: we are not alone, everyone deserves to be remembered, and #YouWillBeFound.