Thursday, December 8, 2016

Emotional & Beautiful Night at The Music Box

For the second time in six months, I was found at the incredible musical Dear Evan Hansen which moved from Off-Broadway to Broadway and opened this past Sunday at the Music Box Theater to rave reviews. Believe me, it deserves every rave that it gets. An original story. A kick-butt score. An amazing ensemble of performers. It has it all.

I first talked about the show when I saw it before, so I don't want to repeat myself too much. I do however need to praise the courage it takes for producers to bring a small scale show to Broadway. A show geared towards a younger crowd (and already embraced by them) that discusses themes they know: social media, feeling alone, trying to find your place in the world. The musical by Steven Leveson and Benj Pasek & Justin Paul goes beyond the old "after school specials" I would watch about these subjects. They take us inside that world with projections designed by Peter Nigrini that remind us how social media is a constant around us at all times; often making people feel even more alone while connecting others. 

The story has parts in it that one shouldn't give away in a review (much like Next To Normal also directed by Michael Grief who tackles family issues in this musical as well), so I don't want to share the synopsis. I tell people the show addresses the question that if you disappeared, would anyone care at all.

At the center of it all is a nerdy, anxious senior whose therapist has suggested he write letters to himself to have a good day. (Hence the title) I praised Ben Platt the last time I saw it and I have to say he's even better now. This young man is a gift to Broadway. His voice absolutely beautiful rather singing in falsetto or full-out. He LIVES Evan Hansen and every emotion that he goes through. Every tic, movement, delivery endears him to the audience and you want to take him in your arms and hold him. This time, I found myself looking at Ben Platt the actor (and not just Evan) wondering what his career will be as he ages and hoping he will never fully say goodbye to Broadway. I hope he sticks around a long time even though Hollywood will always want him as well.  He's just that good, but he deserves to be seen live...again and again.

Many of the cast have worked together at other incarnations of the show at Arena Stages in DC or Second Stage in NYC. (Most have been with the show since the beginning.) It is obvious they know each other so well in how they work off of each other. Rachel Bay Jones killed me even more as his mom that is struggling raising her kid alone and just trying to do the best that she can. Laura Dreyfuss as the object of his affection has a beautiful voice and incredible presence. Mike Faist stood out more to me this time for both his brooding AND humor (try and figure that one out). Jennifer Laura Thompson (who has played her share of teen roles in the past) as their mom knows how to display wealthy mom without making her a caricature. Will Roland and Kristolyn Lloyd gave me more dimension this time than the original comic relief I had thought they supplied off-Broadway. 
I am really glad to see Michael Park back with the show (original dad at Arena Stages, but was in another Broadway show when this was off-Broadway). He is the dad everyone would want to have. His moment with Evan and the ball glove - incredible without going over the top. Subtlety is a great attribute for any performer to have and he uses it to his advantage (after an amazing career both on stage and TV).

I could go on and on about this show because I love it so much. It speaks to the geek buried deep inside of me that has spent a lifetime trying to fit in. In some way, we all do that no matter what our age is. Worried if we're making a difference, if we're making the right decisions - and here we see that from the kids to the adults...all wondering the same thing. Go see this show before people give away too much of the subject matter. Bring tissues. Cry if you want. Don't worry, you will be found. You are not alone.


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