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REVIEW: DEAR EVAN HANSEN Hits Philly Right in the Feels

REVIEW: DEAR EVAN HANSEN Hits Philly Right in the Feels

The Tony-snatching show runs at the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia from August 16 through 28th

Dear Evan Hansen will pour your heart fit to overflow and then spend an hour eyedroppering it over the brim. The new touring cast's Philadelphia stop at the Schubert Organization's Forrest Theatre in Center City from August 16 - 28 does earnest justice to the show with stand-out acting from all cast members. Consider this your content warning, and your Kleenex warning. Tears will roll.

As a show, the Tony Award-hoarding Evan has juggernaut bones. Steve Levenson's script is a rabbit-punch of humor and angst, and his narrative thread is tight enough to make a harp blush. Direction by Michael Grief, smart scenic design by David Korins, and a powerhouse lighting scheme by Japhy Weideman enable lightning-fast scene transitions as the stage goes from bedroom to arena and back in a flash. The choreography from Danny Mefford isn't central - dance is deployed infrequently and, generally, just for fun - but it sets you laughing in group numbers like "Sincerely, Me".

The show plays with deep-cut themes: the excruciation of being estranged from those who are supposed to be closest; the way loneliness gnaws at you like drug withdrawal, until you'll do the craziest things for connection. The touring cast, which includes a debut role for Alaina Anderson (playing Zoe Murphy) and the greenhorn Anthony Norman as the title character, comes together full force in the dramatic scenes, and a few faltering steps along the way - chiefly, less-than-lustrous vocal performance from Norman - don't take a drop of feeling out of the show's big moments. Wednesday night's crowd buzzed, sniffled, and thundered applause.

Evan opens on the bedroom of the titular character. Social feeds and phone screens projected onto pop-up screens edge the stage, a clever and constant presence in the show, their content shifting fluidly with the scene. A high school senior with a clinical dose of anxiety jittering the fingertips of his cast-clad arm, Evan shrinks away from his mom Heidi's (Coleen Sexton) pep talk about making new friends, her questions about his medication, her reminders about his psychologist's latest assignment of writing letters to himself. Norman leans into a quirked-up anxiety, garnished with a penchant for snorting. He agrees to write the letters to himself, but things immediately go wrong as his first one is stolen at school by Connor Murphy (Nikhil Saboo), the troubled brother of Evan's secret crush, Zoe. Later, that note is the only message Connor's parents find on his body after he takes his own life, and the Murphys come to Evan looking for answers.

As the family tries to make sense of their loss and pluck good memories from a basket of bad ones, Evan finds himself fabricating an increasingly elaborate history of friendship to help console the family. The chronically lonely Evan gets caught up in his own imagination of that companionship, as well as the love that Connor's parents Larry and Cynthia, played here by John Hemphill and Lili Thomas, extend to him through home-cooked family dinners and life lessons about breaking in baseball gloves. With the help of his kinda-sorta-friend Jared, the maniacally horny teen behind the Macbook played with cackling zeal by Pablo David Laucerica, Evan fakes a series of email exchanges with Conner. Things go a step further when Alana, "acquaintance" to Evan and queen of resume-stacking service projects, helps create the Connor Project, purportedly to memorialize a dear friend, but increasingly obviously as a way to give these loner kids what they need: a chance to step out of invisibility, and even to speak out on behalf of the invisible.

Evan doesn't have any heroes, just people looking for connection in a world gone sideways. With this show, you come for the songs and stay for the heartwrenching moments that unfold across a dinner table. The North American Tour is worth catching when it hits your city.

Dear Evan Hansen runs in Philadelphia until August 28 at the Schubert Organization's Forrest Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at www.telecharge.com, by phone at 212-239-6200, or at the Forrest Theatre box office (1114 Walnut Street), with a limited number of $31 lottery tickets available for each performance.




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From This Author - G K Schatzman

G K Schatzman is a Philadelphia-based writer, editor, critic, and teacher. Criticism for Schatzman is an art of attentiveness, and the best way to bring folks into the room from afar. In their free... (read more about this author)


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Dear Evan Hansen will pour your heart fit to overflow and then spend an hour eyedroppering it over the brim. The Tony-hoarding show has juggernaut bones and design. Despite less-than-lustrous vocal performance from greenhorn show star Anthony Norman, the touring cast does it earnest justice with stand-out acting from all cast members.

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