Details: Won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2017, among others. The playbill for the original Broadway cast can be found at http://www.playbill.com/production/dear-evan-hansen-music-box-theatre-2016-2017. The official site is https://dearevanhansen.com/
In the last few years, Book of Mormon established itself as the best show on Broadway. Then Hamilton came around and did the same. Now comes Dear Evan Hansen and, though I wouldn’t say that it’s definitively better than Hamilton, it is the successor to Hamilton as the next best show on Broadway.
Dear Evan Hansen is a very contemporary story with a ton of themes such as mental illness, anxiety, social pressures, depression, the effect of the internet and social media on society, loss, grief, and lies and how lies can hurt or sometimes help. The story centers on high school student Evan Hansen. Evan has no friends due to his severe social anxiety. It’s so severe he takes medication and receives therapy to cope with it. A occurs at Evan’s school and Evan tells a lie about his relationship to that tragedy. That lie then snowballs out of control and spreads onto the internet and social media until it eventually comes to a head.
The whole cast is great, but this is undoubtedly the Ben Platt show. Ben Platt plays Evan Hansen and, similarly to what Heath Ledger did in The Dark Knight, Platt takes a good show and makes it amazing. Platt’s delivery of lines, his body language, his energy, is entirely convincing that he has this crippling social anxiety. Sometimes Platt is soft-spoken. Other times, he explodes with an almost Tourette like verbal diarrhea. He sometimes even sounds like Zed from the Police Academy movies.
What’s most amazing about this performance is how familiar and relatable it is. I’ve known people who act very much like Evan Hansen. In fact, there were a lot of times in my life where I felt like how Evan Hansen was acting. It’s that ability to portray someone so odd, yet relatable that makes his performance so captivating.
Then you have to take into consideration how Platt’s ability to exercise his incredibly singing talent while remaining character. He takes the rhythm and timbre of Evan Hansen and somehow incorporates that into his singing. Platt almost stutters at time (deliberately so) and then belts out a high note, not sounding out-of-place at all. There’s one song at the climax where Platt is dirty crying, like Viola-Davis-win-an-Oscar-Award dirty crying and still he manages to sing and belt out that song between snot drops and sobs. It’s a sight to behold and a marvel of technical singing ability.
The songs here are some of the best I’ve heard from recent musicals. It’s not just the melody or the arrangement, but the content as they all deal with these deep emotions.
The one criticism I have is that I did not cry as much as I expected to. I read a lot of opinions on this show where people claimed they cried throughout the whole thing. I was generally okay as the first half of the show is mostly comedic. I didn’t even cry during “Words Fail,” the song at the climax of the show where Platt dirty cries. However, “So Big/So Small,” the song that immediately follows that song and sung by Rachel Bay Jones. That song brought tears to my eye and I stayed choked up after that song until the end of the show. Rachel Bay Jones deserved that damn Tony Award.
Additionally, I really like what they did with the stage. They set up a bunch of long screens that really help visualize the effect social media had on the events of the show. When they were messaging or making phone calls, the various screens hanging around the stage would show smart phone messages to indicate calls/messages were being sent. When Evan’s actions lead to something going viral on the internet, the screens behind the actors start being flooded with the faces and comments of all the commentators on his post. It’s a clever, clean setup that helps convey the effect of technology while not cluttering the stage.
Overall, Dear Evan Hansen is a great musical and a must see show. Unfortunately, the show relied heavily on Ben Platt who I think will be leaving the show on November 19 of this year. I don’t know who they’ll find to replace him, but Platt has left some big shoes to fill.