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“Dear Evan Hansen”

Music Box Theatre

 

“Dear Evan Hansen,” the deeply moving and emotional new show that just opened on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre, is one of the finest musicals of the last several years.  Following an Off-Broadway production at Second Stage Theatre last season, “Dear Evan Hansen” has smoothly made the jump to Broadway and, if anything, actually plays better on a larger stage.  With a remarkable central performance by Ben Platt and an extremely impressive and contemporary score by the young songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, “Dear Evan Hansen” is sure to strike a chord with audiences of all ages.  This show also manages to embrace social media, and its effects on society, in a way that I have rarely seen before.  And “Dear Evan Hansen” is that rarity: a completely original musical that is not based on a novel or a movie or any other source material.  With a fine book by Steven Levenson, “Dear Evan Hansen” is filled with both humor and heartache and proves to be an unforgettable show.

“Dear Evan Hansen” first made its premiere at Arena Stage in Washington, D. C. in 2015 before moving to a successful run at Off-Broadway’s Second Stage Theatre this past Spring.  I caught the show at Second Stage and immediately felt that “Dear Evan Hansen” was a new musical that deserved a future.  Happily, that has happened and, except for one cast change, the entire company from Off-Broadway has made the trip to Broadway.  The promise and power that “Dear Evan Hansen” had at Second Stage Theatre has only grown deeper on a second viewing and the exceptional score sounds even better hearing it again.  Unlike many musicals, just about every song in the show is a winner and, on the whole, this score makes quite a profound impact on the audience.

I will confess that I was initially drawn to “Dear Evan Hansen” because of its young songwriters, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.  Their previous scores, for “A Christmas Story-The Musical” and “Dogfight,” displayed the ability of these composers to write songs that fit each of those musicals perfectly.  With their score for “Dear Evan Hansen,” however, it almost seems that Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have graduated to an even higher level.  With their combined imaginations and their penchant to compose songs that can break the heart, as well as illuminate a wide array of emotions, Pasek and Paul have written a score that will make you want to run out to buy the original cast album immediately (it is to be released in February 2017).  These young songwriters are almost crazy-talented and have reached quite a pinnacle with their work on “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Besides the superb and deeply satisfying score, the real trump card in “Dear Evan Hansen” is Ben Platt, who fully embodies the title role.  Playing a high school student who is deeply shy and socially insecure with his peers, this actor can communicate a large range of feelings all within a single line or gesture.  Platt’s singing, especially of his first song, “Waving Through a Window,” is simply brilliant and his sensitive acting is full of nuanced and detailed moments throughout.  Ben Platt is quite a revelation in this show and his performance is truly one for the ages.

This is not to say that there aren’t other assets in this show, as well.  Director Michael Greif, who did such a fine job with the Pulitzer Prize winning musicals, “Rent” and “Next to Normal,” amongst other shows, also seems to have hit some kind of career high with “Dear Evan Hansen” and his direction is enormously touching and varied.  In addition to Ben Platt, there is also particularly wonderful work by Rachel Bay Jones, as Evan’s mother, whose final solo is simply devastating.  Still, the entire company is pretty great, and the one cast member who wasn’t in the show when it was Off-Broadway (but originated his role at Arena Stage), Michael Park, has transformed the seeming benign number, “To Break in a Glove,” into quite a memorable moment in the show.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is one musical that comes up aces in all departments, from David Korins’ spare, yet imaginative, set design (in perfect accordance with Peter Nigrini’s projection design) to the appropriate costumes designed by Emily Rebholz and the effective lighting design by Japhy Weideman.  Alex LaCamoire’s work as orchestrator and musical supervisor is phenomenal and he brings out the best in Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s already terrific score.  “Dear Evan Hansen,” at the Music Box Theatre, is quite an amazing show and should be required viewing for anyone interested in musical theatre.

“Dear Evan Hansen” continues performances at the Music Box Theatre on Broadway.  For tickets, please visit www.DearEvanHansen.com or call Telecharge at 212-239-6200.

Photo: L-R: Ben Platt and Rachel Bay Jones

Photo by Matthew Murphy

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