BWW Review: You Will Be Found at DEAR EVAN HANSEN
Dear Evan Hansen,
Today is going to be an awesome day, and here's why: the first national tour of Dear Evan Hansen is sharing its story with Pittsburgh audiences for the rest of this week at Heinz Hall.
Dear Evan Hansen is a modern musical thrust into the technologically advanced twenty-first century. The 2017 Tony Award winning musical couples technology with emotion, as the show uses projections, recorded audio, and live video to amplify the heartwarming/heartbreaking realities of the show.
A senior in high school, Evan Hansen (Ben Levi Ross) spends most of his Friday nights at home on his laptop. His school friends are limited, his single mother works and takes night classes, and his therapist has assigned him pep talk letters to write to himself.
These letters are supposed to be for his eyes only, but when Connor Murphy (Marrick Smith) finds one of the letters on a school printer and confronts Evan about it, the plot is set into motion.
Days later, Evan would be informed that Connor committed suicide and had Evan's letter in his pocket. Connor's grieving parents assumed this letter was intended for Evan and, in a way, was Connor's suicide note. Evan plays the part of friend, lying to Connor's parents that Connor and he were secretly friends.
This provides some comfort and solace to the heartbroken family, but Evan's lies begin to compound on one another and grow bigger with the progression of the show. A result of these lies is the creation of The Connor Project, a group assembled to remember the legacy of Connor Murphy that grows an online following of thousands.
If you have anxiety that these lies could eventually be found, you would not be alone. The entire show is written with these lies at the forefront of the action. From one scene to another, audience members sit on edge, wondering if these will be discovered and what consequences would be unleashed.
As if that weren't enough, Evan begins a relationship with Zoe Murphy (Maggie McKenna), the sister of the now deceased Connor, and Evan spends more and more time with the Murphy family. All the while, his mother, Heidi Hansen (Jessica Phillips) is hard at work or in night class. She has no idea where her son has been spending all of his time.
What is nice about this show is the extremely small cast size; the two siblings and two parents of the Murphy family, Evan and his mom, and two high school friends complete the cast. The intimate cast size helps with the connection to the cast. Audiences are able to invest more in each member of the cast, without the frills or distractions of large ensembles.
This show's set is unique as well, in that screens and projections make the show seem larger than life. A nod to the lighting design, social media feeds fill the stage from curtain to curtain in most scenes. This serves as a dueling metaphor; although the stage seems full of social media posts, only one person is on stage alone. They're surrounded by an online community, but socially isolated.
With all the technology presented in this musical, nothing can replace the human component of the show, just as nothing can replace the humanity of a life lost too soon. Power anthems like "You Will Be Found" and "Words Fail" pull at the heartstrings.
Phenomenal emotional acting also helps leave tears in audience's eyes. The two mothers of the show Cynthia Murphy (Christiane Noll) and Heidi Hansen (Jessica Phillips) and the son Evan Hansen (Ben Levi Ross) remind us of what a mother's unconditional love can mean to her child and what a child desperately needs from his mother.
As much as I wanted to love this show because of the human connections, there was unfortunately distance created by the actors. Never will there be a perfect performance with perfect notes and perfect staging, but the word that comes to mind when thinking about this performance is pitchy.
The vocal direction for this show left me not only needing more but also jolted me back into reality and out of the world of the show. With most numbers, the actors started piano and crescendoed to forte. This added intensity, but the first half of most of the songs were weak and somewhat off key.
The other matter I have issue with in the show is its length, but that has nothing to do with the actors or this production. With some fine-tuning, this show could have easily been made into a succinct and powerful one act show. I even questioned after the end of the first act if there were an intermission or if the show were over.
With that aside, Dear Evan Hansen is a show for all audiences, with heavy topics discussed. Its coming-of-age progression is seen in Evan's growth from the start to finish of the show. Bravo, Mr. Ross on this portrayal. It was obvious that Mr. Ross worked tirelessly on all of the ticks and idiosyncrasies of the character in order to portray them in the light he wanted.
Topics like mental health and suicide are touched upon, as well, but the messages at the heart of the show is finding oneself, accepting oneself, and navigating through the digital age. There are no easy answers to any of these questions, but a good song sung with friends and family is a good way to start for this musical.
The show also has a little bit of a Mr. Rogers' essence, which resounds well with a Pittsburgh audience. In one of Evan's letters, he says, "Today at least... you're you. No hiding, no lying. Just... you. And that's... that's enough." A powerful line by a strong young man in a dynamic show.
To see or not to see score: 6/9; Moderately Recommended Show
Photo by: Matthew Murphy