NEW YORK CITY - I want to tell you everything about Dear Evan Hansen, the new Broadway musical that just opened at The Music Box theater. But I also want to tell you nothing about Dear Evan Hansen, because I don’t want to spoil anything. Let’s see how I can do this…
Dear Evan Hansen is about an anxious, painfully shy high school senior whose therapist wants him to write encouraging letters to himself. When one of these letters winds up in someone else’s hands, well, that’s when everything--both bad AND good--gets set into motion. When one misunderstanding turns into a giant web of lies, Evan finds himself in the spotlight, and I found myself sitting nervously in the mezzanine for the rest of the show waiting for the other New Balance sneaker to drop.
I don’t want to give away too much because I enjoyed going to this show with a pretty blank slate. I walked in knowing almost nothing about it, so everything that happened was a revelation. I asked the usher as I headed to my seat: “How is the show?” She replied, “Excellent.” And she was right. Maybe that’s all you really need to know.
Okay, some details. The show stars Ben Platt as the title character, and he brings the charming, nebbish nerdiness that he’s known for from his role as Benji in the Pitch Perfect movies and his turn as Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon, which I just happened to see two years ago. But in this show, he balances that quirkiness with the pain and angst of a teenager living in today’s be-popular-or-be-invisible times. His gut-wrenching performance of the song “Words Fail” is something that Tony voters will hopefully remember in 2017.
Platt is truly the center of the show, and he is well surrounded by a stellar cast including Rachel Bay Jonesas his absent-but-loving mother Heidi, Laura Dreyfuss as Evan’s crush Zoe Murphy, Mike Faist as Zoe’s troubled-yet-reinvented (in a way) brother Connor, and Jennifer Laura Thompson and Michael Parkas their parents, Cynthia and Larry Murphy. The small but powerful group of performers is rounded out by Will Roland as Evan’s reluctant friend (“family friend,” that is) Jared Kleinman and Kristolynn Lloyd as overachiever Alana Beck.
The songs in Dear Evan Hansen are special; the show is not filled with your typical “show tunes.” Benj Pasek & Justin Paul (A Christmas Story, La La Land, Trolls, Smash, and more) wrote the words and music to Steven Levenson’s book, and what you hear is almost more of a singer/songwriter style rather than an over-the-top set of Broadway numbers. The haunting “Waving Through a Window” beautifully captures so much of the show’s message about loneliness, while “Only Us” is such a subtly romantic song that I could see being released as a single once the soundtrack comes out next February. Alex Lacamoire, who I know and admire from his work with Hamilton: An American Musical, serves as the show's Music Supervisor.
So, who should see Dear Evan Hansen? Well, it’s definitely not for young kids, although I did see a girl of about six or seven in the audience. If Broadway shows had ratings, I think this would be PG-13 or even R for all the language and the heaviness of the topics. However, I think that any parent with teenagers should take their kids to see it. Anyone who’s active on social media should see it. Anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider, or felt invisible, or felt like they didn’t fit in, should see it. It’s a moment in theater that’s thought-provoking, heartbreaking, and incredible.
Dear Evan Hansen is playing now at The Music Box theater, 239 West 45th Street, NYC.
Jennifer Niederhoffer is the founder of Impress Media, an independent lifestyle & entertainment public relations and editorial services firm. You can follow her on twitter @impressmedia or @themommysreview.