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BWW Review: DEAR EVAN HANSEN, We Applaud You at Murat Theatre

On stage through May 1st.

Dear Evan HansenAs with any massively popular production, you have to wonder if the hype matches the reality. In the case of Dear Evan Hansen, the reality more than exceeds the expectations. This production is full of not only exceptional musical moments but also an enthralling story. It holds you captivated from beginning to end and leaves you with a lingering sense that you just experienced something extraordinary and important.

Celeste:

I had already fallen in love with the music of Dear Evan Hansen before I took my seat opening night, but it came alive in new ways during this performance. There is something fundamentally different about witnessing live theater, and for me, it's the ability to fully suspend disbelief and sit in the emotions created by the performers on stage. Emotions absolutely swirled on the stage of the Murat Theatre, and it was an exceptional experience.

The first note I have to make about this performance is that it was truly a celebration of the understudies. There are only 8 performers to sustain this intense show, and of those 8, 6 were listed as an understudy for the role they played. Some theatergoers may mistakenly believe these performers will be less than stellar, but they would be preposterously wrong. Every performer on that stage was fully committed, and every performer delivered on the intensity and passion that this show demands.

Unsurprisingly, I was drawn in by Evan Hansen, played by Sam Primack. His attention to detail as a performer added a deep richness to his character. He had ticks, expressions, and body language that drew me into Evan in such a human way. That kind of art is to be commended, especially when portraying such a complicated and ultimately flawed character. His singing was also everything audiences could wish for. There were quirky moments, powerful moments, and quiet, sad moments. He helped you see and feel and hear the inescapable emotional rollercoaster of Evan and his journey.

When a show includes such weighty topics as suicide and mental health, having moments of comedy helps ground and balance everything. A huge part of that comic relief came from Jared Kleinman (Matthew Edward Kemp). Kemp helped the character's quick wit shine and was the quintessential teasing teenager. His performance rounded out heavier moments and also served as a reminder that even the "happy-go-lucky" kid may be feeling uncertain or adrift.

A final emotional moment for me came during the song "So Big/So Small" when Heidi Hansen (Coleen Sexton) bares her soul. Sexton gave a gritty and intense performance. All of the parents in the production showed another side to the struggles of high school: the struggles of parenting a high schooler. In the end, everyone is making attempts, often failed attempts, to show they care and want things to be different. Recognizing the effort and the failures helps unite these broken families in their fight to be seen, heard, and accepted.

Dylan:

In spite of the shadowy subject matter, Dear Evan Hansen has become a massive success. More importantly, Dear Evan Hansen is also a sincerely strong musical, with a nuanced book, a master score, and energetic direction and design that merged to produce a show of immense emotional impact.

Thankfully, the national tour of Dear Evan Hansen, now playing the Murat Theatre, more than does impartiality to its Broadway mothership. The physical production is virtually identical to the Broadway show, and the cast is undeniably first-rate, making it that rare touring show that is every bit as good as what you'd see in NYC. The fact that this cast was almost 100% understudies was incredible.

First among my standouts in this top-notch cast was Kelsey Venter as Cynthia Murphy, the mother of Evan's deceased fellow student. Murphy was a wonderful part of the show, and she consistently brought layers of believable emotionality to everything she did onstage. Also strong here was Coleen Sexton as Heidi, Evan's mother. Sexton was especially effective during "So Big, So Small," Heidi's painful declaration to Evan that she's not going to leave him like his father had.

Of course, the real key player to any cast of Dear Evan Hansen will be whomever plays the title role, and Sam Primack certainly didn't disappoint. Primack brought a tangible humanity to the role, and an unsettling realism to the character's incapacitating anxiety. Although Primack has an undeniably strong voice, he's somewhat more effective during Evan's spoken scenes, but I honestly think that's what was intended. Evan's breakdown while speaking at a school assembly was almost unbearable to witness, which made the subsequent song, the anthemic "You Will Be Found," a miracle of quiet poise.

The true forte of Dear Evan Hansen as a show was in its aptitude to make Evan's story stirring but never weepy. It was quite a balance to achieve, a testimony to the skills of composer/lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, as well as their librettist Steven Levenson.

DEAR EVAN HANSEN is not just a great show. It carries with it an important message you won't want to miss. Tickets are moving quickly, and performances continue through May 1st at the Murat Theatre.



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