Not enough Broadway productions have taken advantage of technology or even tried to evolve beyond the trappings of the medium from a hundred years ago. This is one of the reasons I connected so instantly to RENT (probably my favorite theater show, although it works best if you see it when you’re a young starving creative). Since that show only Avenue Q and American Idiot, that I can recall, really pushed forward the opportunity of visual storytelling on the stage. And now, and even more so, you can Dear Evan Hansen to that list.
The story involves the titular high-school nerd who accidentally gets misconstrued as the BFF of a suicide victim and plays along, at first, because it seems to be helping the family. But as these things tend to do, the lie spirals and grows bigger than he can handle. The psychological dynamics are pretty strong throughout, with Evan’s relationship with his single mom providing a nice juxtaposition to that of the dead teen’s parents and their left-behind daughter (on whom Evan has a crush). Social media plays a huge backdrop to the story, with twitter feeds on display throughout, and the benefits and pitfalls of social networking (the way it brings people together, the way it keeps people apart, the bandwagoning that has become a national pastime) being huge story moments.
The cast is uniformly excellent, including recent Tony winner Ben Platt, who wears his social awkwardness on his constantly brushed sleeve. It’s a more honest character portrayal than is usual for musical theater.
As with every story like this, going back to movies like Can’t Buy Me Love and beyond, the lie will get exposed, the hero will take a fall, and there will be a turn. And yet, even though the crumbs were laid for an expected resolution, the production delightfully goes down an unexpected, but ultimately more honest path.
Dear Evan Hansen is a wonderfully executed stage production with a bevy of great songs and moments, stuffed with great performances and with a fully-realized point of view. I haven’t thought about it much, but I imagine this will have no trouble finding its place in the upper digits of my favorite shows of all time.
My Grade – A