DEAR EVAN HANSEN
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BWW Review: DEAR EVAN HANSEN at the Denver Center

BWW Review: DEAR EVAN HANSEN at the Denver Center

Since Dear Evan Hansen launched its tour in Denver, my Facebook feed has been filled with friends obsessing over its emotional magnitude, and rightfully so. The Tony-winner for Best Musical is a powerful piece. It tackles the kinds of subjects you don't often see in musical theatre.

Directed by Michael Grief with a book by Steven Levenson and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the creatives have constructed a show that both feels and sounds modern and relevant, elevated by stunning technical design by David Korins (scenic), Peter Nigrini (projections) and Japhy Weideman (lighting).

Evan Hansen, a teenager who struggles with social anxiety, is assigned by his therapist to write letters to himself as a way to affirm why "today is going to be a good day." When he prints a letter at school, it ends up in the hands of his loner classmate, Connor Murphy, who soon after commits suicide. (The letter happens to mention Connor's sister, Zoe, whom Evan is crushing on.)

When Connor's parents find the letter on him, they assume he wrote it to Evan, questioning whether Connor had formed a friendship with Evan and wanting to know more about their connection. Wrapped up in a situation he doesn't know how to handle, Evan lies to Connor's family in an attempt to bring them closure in his death, concurrently developing a relationship with Zoe and a familial bond he's never known. With the help of a family friend, Jared, Evan crafts a collection of fake emails between him and Connor to prove their rapport existed.

In the meantime, Evan's fabricated friendship with Connor spreads at school, provoking go-getter classmate Alana to start a memorial page, and she insists Evan help keep Connor's memory alive. When he makes a speech to his school at a memorial for Connor, it goes viral, causing Evan's lie to grow larger than he knows how to handle.

Ben Levi Ross brings an intuitive portrayal to Evan, letting the role's anxious quirks commendably consume his portrayal. Vocally he ascends through the complex score with ease, grounding the role's emotional core in all the right places.

Jessica Phillips plays Evan's single mom, Heidi, with a perfectly nuanced demeanor, balancing a mother's fierce love with the obstacle of working long hours to support them. In a similar vein, Connor's parents, Cynthia (Christiane Noll) and Larry Murphy (Aaron Lazar), are viscerally performed with the intricacies of parents grappling with the death of their son they could never reach. Their daughter, Zoe (Maggie McKenna), never cared much for her brother and doesn't know how to deal with his death. McKenna's performance is another standout, both vocally and passionately.

A bit of comic relief comes from Evan's friend Jared (Jared Goldsmith), who treats the ordeal with a snarky wit. While the character of Connor (Marrick Smith) has his dark moments, his character is often played in the same way. Their classmate Alana (Phoebe Koyabe) is familiar to anyone who's ever dealt with a public tragedy--she just wants to find her place in it.

While the subjects dealt with are raw, they're often handled with a very straightforward approach, keeping reality at the core. The fearless plot is uncommon and at times uncomfortable, and that's what makes it so revolutionary.

What Evan is doing isn't very sensible, but his character is built in a way that it makes sense for him. On the surface you could easily hate him, but his innocence comes from such a genuine core, you're along for the ride, and you truly hope what he's doing actually brings some good.

And this show has plenty of that to give.

Dear Evan Hansen
Through Oct. 13
Buell Theatre
DenverCenter.org

Photo by Matthew Murphy

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From This Author Chris Arneson

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