BWW Review: DEAR EVAN HANSEN is a Smash Hit at the Aronoff Center
The smash hit "Dear Evan Hansen" has finally arrived at the Aronoff Center as the second to last show of the 2018-19 Broadway in Cincinnati season. The 2017 Tony Award-winning best musical features a Tony Award-winning book by Steven Levenson and a Tony Award-winning score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Are you getting the hint that it's stellar yet?
Dear Evan Hansen follows the story of a lonely teenager, Evan Hansen, as he begins his senior year much like every other year before this one: friendless, dreading every minute yet also hoping this year may be the one where things change, and he might talk to Zoe Murphy. His therapist has him writing letters to himself saying "Today is going to be a good day, and here's why..." Things get complicated when one of his letters gets in the hands of the other outcast, Connor Murphy. After he has been notified that Connor committed suicide, Evan stretches the truth a bit by saying the two were friends. One little lie leads to another, and soon Evan has created an alternate life for himself.
Ben Levi Ross (Evan Hansen) is a supernova in the titular role. Evan makes some hard decisions through the show, but through Ross's portrayal with the help of Levenson's brilliantly crafted book, you can't help but root for the well-intentioned teen. Ross's golden-throated vocals were absolute perfection as his voice seemed to float over the catchy Pasek and Paul tunes effortlessly. The famous "Waving Through a Window" got well deserved thunderous applause as Ross's complex and raw, honest acting and beautiful voice comes together in perfect harmony for the first time.
Ross's chemistry with Maggie McKenna (Zoe) is such a delight. They work so naturally together, which makes their act two duet, "Only Us" one of the most touching moments in the show. It's such a real moment that real high school couples face and can relate to, and to see it played so honestly onstage is beautiful.
Jessica Phillips (Heidi) is phenomenal in the role of Evan's single mom. Heidi works as a nurse's aid and is going to school to become a paralegal to provide for her son, which means there isn't much time for her to be home with him. The audience sees Phillips's incredibly developed arc and how desperately Heidi wants and tries to connect to Evan during the majority of the show. Her acting is unbelievably truthful. During every scene between her and Ross, it feels almost as if the audience is just a fly on the wall of a conversation between your every day mother and son instead of watching a musical. Then can we talk about her powerhouse vocals? Phillips brought the house down with the rock-esque act two jam, "Good For You," where Heidi finally lets out her feelings about Evan's situation. She is belting to the gods, then turns around 15 minutes later to sing the most touching ballad "So Big/So Small" eight times a week, and for that, the woman deserves an award.
This is a show that our society needs now more than ever. Topics like anxiety, suicide, honesty, relationships, loyalty and many more are addressed at length, and in an extremely relatable way for today's society. Since I first heard the cast album when the musical first premiered on Broadway, I knew I connected to the show. It spoke to me on such a deep level and made me feel safe and understood and frankly, found. And you know what's magical about "Dear Evan Hansen?" I know that several people in the audience every night leave feeling the same way. That's why we make and watch art, right? To feel things and to talk about issues that need light shed on them. "Dear Evan Hansen" does that and more.
While I wish this company could stay in Cincinnati "for forever," you only have until May 12 to catch this masterpiece. If you do not already have tickets, they offer a digital lottery for each performance. For more information click here. For more information about the show and other ticket opportunities click here.