BWW REVIEWS: DEAR EVAN, Thanks For Everything. Sincerely, Columbus.
As it did at the Tony Awards, DEAR EVAN HANSEN, the 2017 award winner for Best Musical, rolls into Columbus on the tails of HAMILTON, the 2016 Tony Award winner which played in the Ohio Theatre in the Spring. Although the style of music and subject manner are hard to compare, there are many similarities between the two. The most striking of these unlikely storylines for a musical with HAMILTON taking the life of America's founding father Alexander Hamilton while DEAR EVAN HANSEN confronts many of the problems facing teens and parents currently. Like HAMILTON, DEAR EVAN HANSEN gets style points for originality with a powerful message and memorable score that stays with you for days.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN wraps up its stay-over in Columbus with shows on Sept. 19-22 at the Ohio Theatre (39 E. State Street in downtown Columbus).
The challenge for lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and Steven Levenson, who wrote the book, was to make a musical that intertwines the painful lessons of adolescence and themes of loneliness and isolation, teenage suicide, grief, parenting, and honesty, and, as an extra challenge, make it uplifting without making it sound like an ABC Afterschool Special. That challenge is complete. DEAR EVAN HANSEN captured six Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and earned a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album in 2018.
As the curtain opens, the audience is bombarded with a barrage of text message and notifications including one to turn off their cell phones. Evan (Stephen Christopher Anthony), a high school misfit, tries to complete a letter to himself as that his therapist recommended. When he tries to print out the letter at his school's computer lab, it is intercepted by local bully and loner Connor Murphy (Marrick Smith). Since the letter includes a paragraph about being infatuated with Connor's sister Zoe (Maggie McKenna), Evan braces himself for a Connor firestorm.
Three days later, Evan finds himself confronted by Connor's parents Cynthia (Christine Noll) and Larry (Aaron Lazar). They are trying to unravel the mystery of why their son killed himself. The only clue they have is Evan's letter that was found with the body. Wanting to paint a positive image of Connor for his parents, he babbles out a piece of fiction of how he and Connor were good friends.
The lie snowballs and ultimately spirals out of control as Evan weaves his way into the Murphy's' life and he develops a relationship with Zoe.
Anthony, who is making his debut as Evan in Columbus, captures all the nervous tics of a high school student perfectly and forms a true chemistry with the ever skeptical Zoe in ballads like "If I Could Tell Her" and "Only Us."
Lazar and Noll and Jane Pfitsch (who plays Evan's mother Heidi) stretch far beyond the plastic facsimiles of the distant parents who don't know their children. Lazar and Noll represent a wealthy family who have everything ... except happy children and a strong marriage. The song "Requiem" illustrates how Cynthia, Larry, and Zoe struggle to come to grips with Connor's suicide.
Heidi Hansen, on the other hand, is a working mom trying to balance building a strong relationship with her son and being the sole breadwinner for the household. Pfitsch displays a great emotional range from the venom-spewing "Good For You" to the heartwarming "So Big/So Small."
Providing much-needed comic relief as well as an emotional counterpunch are Jared Kleinman (Jared Goldsmith) and Alana Beck (Phoebe Koyabe). Beck, a student with more notches on her academic resume than actual friends, tries to use Connor's death as a way of rallying the school together. The cynical and diabolical Kleinman helps Evan write a series of emails to prove to the Murphys that Evan and Connor were actually friends. The song, "Sincerely Me," in which Connor's ghost appears to sing every line of text Evan and Jared type up, is among the show's many highlights.
What is the crowning point of this musical is its ability to reach the audience without coming across as preachy or a weepy melodrama. In a world where so many devices are bought and sold to keep people connected, but in the end drive us further apart. Here's hoping DEAR EVAN HANSEN can bridge that gap.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN has only a half dozen shows remaining in its Columbus stopover. The musical will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19 and 8 p.m. on Sept. 20-21 with a special 6:30 p.m. showing on Sept. 22 and matinees on 2 p.m. Sept. 21 and 1 p.m. Sept. 22. Call (614) 469-0939 for details.