Dear Evan Hansen: Theater review by Adam Feldman
“I wish that everything was different,” writes Evan Hansen (Ben Platt). “I wish that I was a part of…something. I wish that anything I said…mattered, to anyone.” It’s a letter to himself, because he has no one else to write to; cripplingly shy, he is all but invisible at high school. But his wish comes true via a tragic twist: A troubled, rageful misfit named Connor (Mike Faist)—the brother of Evan’s crush, Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss, delicately sad)—kills himself after stealing the letter; his grieving parents (Jennifer Laura Thompson and John Dossett) mistake it for a letter that Connor had written to Evan. He doesn’t correct them, and things snowball from there: A speech that Evan gives about his supposed secret friendship with the dead boy goes viral online, and he is suddenly in the middle of a national movement of sympathy. He becomes popular—or at least important—over Connor’s dead body.
This may sound like a young-adult novel, but the captivating original musical Dear Evan Hansen treats its story with decidedly adult sensitivity and intelligence. The score, by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, combines insightful, well-crafted lyrics with an exciting contemporary-pop sound, and Steven Levenson’s book gives all the characters shaded motives, including Evan’s fellow students (Will Roland and Kristolyn Lloyd) and his overworked, guilt-ridden single mother (the superb Rachel Bay Jones).
A close cousin to Next to Normal—which Michael Greif also directed—the show situates its story of isolation, grief and class difference in a wider web of social-media culture. But its focus is unabashedly on the raw and conflicted Evan, and Platt’s performance is extraordinary: funny, sweet, beautifully sung and exquisitely worked-out in its physical details. If Dear Evan Hansen graduates to Broadway, as it should, attention will be paid. He’s part of something special.—Adam Feldman
Second Stage (Off Broadway). Book by Steven Levenson. Music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Directed by Michael Greif. With Ben Platt, Rachel Bay Jones. Running time: 2hrs 25mins. One intermission.
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