Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of DEAR EVAN HANSEN in Los Angeles?
"Dear Evan Hansen" opened its Los Angeles engagement October 19.
The winner of six 2017 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, "Dear Evan Hansen" features a book by Tony Award-winner Steven Levenson, a score by Grammy, Tony and Academy Award winners Benj Pasek & Justin Paul ("La La Land," "The Greatest Showman") and direction by four-time Tony Award nominee Michael Greif ("Rent," "Next to Normal").
The "Dear Evan Hansen" first national tour cast features Ben Levi Ross in the title role. Stage and TV star Jessica Phillips plays Heidi Hansen. Tony Award nominee Christiane Noll plays Cynthia Murphy and Broadway veteran Aaron Lazar plays Larry Murphy. Marrick Smith and Maggie McKenna round out the Murphy family (as Connor and Zoe, respectively), while Jared Goldsmith as Jared Kleinman and Phoebe Koyabe as Alana Beck complete the on-stage company.
The cast also includes Stephen Christopher Anthony (as the Evan alternate) along with understudies Ciara Alyse Harris, John Hemphill, Noah Kieserman, Jane Pfitsch, Coleen Sexton and Maria Wirries. Maggie McKenna is appearing with the permission of Actors' Equity Association.
Let's see what the critics are saying...
Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: There are many reasons "Dear Evan Hansen," the Tony-winning musical that more than lived up to expectations at its glorious opening Friday at the Ahmanson Theatre, has become a cultural phenomenon.... Naturally, the heart and soul of the show is Ross' Evan, who matures the hard way before our very eyes. An undeserving hero he may be, but this extraordinary lead performance is heroic in the truth it exposes about our error-strewn paths from youthful alienation toward that distant mountain of self-acceptance.
Deborah Wilker, The Hollywood Reporter: Though written several years ago now, DEH remains a taut commentary on our click-chasing times, even taking into account the head-snapping speed with which so many social platforms have fallen in and out of favor. And Ross, in a role that is one of the most vocally taxing and emotionally demanding of any in current musical theater, is doing exceptional work. (Alternate Stephen Christopher Anthony plays the lead at matinees). For anyone who ever sat alone at lunch, Dear Evan Hansen has an enduring message: You will be found.
Hannah Ferguson, Daily Bruin: With a less remarkable cast, the dialogue of this show could have easily been construed as awkward or cheesy, and the many sophomoric jokes typical of high school boys could have fallen flat, like when Evan's family friend Jared Kleinman (Jared Goldsmith) repeatedly suggests Evan's falsified relation with Connor is a romantic one. Due to impeccable comedic timing and incredible voices from each member of the eight-person cast, the audience could focus on the powerful messages of the significance of the individual in the community without being distracted by mediocre acting. The audience should be prepared for emotionally raw scenes dealing with rocky parent-child relationships through difficult transitional phases, the power and consequences of lying and what happens to our memory after death.
Imaan Jalali, LA Excites: Like Platt before him, Ben Levi Ross makes the Evan Hansen persona his own, making him intensely relatable and personable not in spite of, but because of his shortcomings. Evan has moments of tragedy, but more so brilliant flashes of realization and maturity that serve as a helpful template for any audience member who feels untapped or trapped like he does. To express oneself truthfully and without apology is the grand theme of "Dear Evan Hansen," and Ross beautifully evinces an array of sentiments subsumed under this during instances of pensiveness ("Waving Through a Window"), hopeful angst ("If I Could Tell Her"), powerful poignancy ("You Will Be Found"), and heartbreaking resignation ("Words Fail"). Suffice it to say, Ross exhibits an incredible vocal control through it all, utilizing the breadth of his silvery voice to maximum effect.
Matthew Shaffler, LA Dance Chronicle: Ben Levi Ross hits ridiculously, impossible high notes with such ease, honesty, and charisma that one might believe they could simply jump up on stage and sing along with him. Seriously, I wanted to jump on stage and sing along with him. Which is a huge testament to Ross's ability to make a hero out of an outcast. Following his gut-wrenching song "For Forever" near the top of Act I, he received a thunderous applause that lasted (at least) 30 seconds, but it could have easily continued for 10 minutes--that's how talented he is.
Erin Conley, On Stage and Screen: Dear Evan Hansen is a very high quality show all-around, from the performances to the music to the very modern set and projection design (David Korins and Peter Nigrini), which shows a never-ending stream of tweets and texts and Facebook statuses, creating an ironic backdrop of constant connection for a show that is all about the anguish of feeling terribly alone. And regardless of where you decide Evan's moral compass falls, the message of the show is an important, hopeful one. "You are not alone," the cast sings in "You Will Be Found," the heart-wrenching act one closer. Sure, not all of the messaging is perfect-who Connor actually was as a person is largely lost in the shuffle as his death is appropriated for an internet movement, although that is quite possibly the point. But in each audience there is surely at least one person who desperately needs to hear that they are not alone, and for that reason, it is important that a show like Dear Evan Hansen exists.