BWW Review: DEAR EVAN HANSEN Will Be Found at Broadway Sacramento
Once in a while, you're lucky enough to witness something so special that you are forever changed. I've stared at this computer screen for hours trying to verbalize what is still swirling around in my head, impressions that are seemingly impossible to solidify into communicable thoughts. Last night's performance of Dear Evan Hansen plunged me into deep reflection, something only a handful of shows have accomplished. The show that won six Tony Awards in 2017 and a 2018 Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album is in Sacramento now through January 26 for a west coast jaunt of its first national tour.
I once read that Stephen King said that the word amazing is overused and that writers should avoid it at all costs. I'm sure that he would forgive me if he saw Dear Evan Hansen. Everything about this show is amazing. It's also magnificent, dazzling, enthralling, astounding, inspiring, and outstanding. Part of it has to do with the composing team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who are also responsible for A Christmas Story, The Musical, "La La Land," and "The Greatest Showman." Their music is memorable, contemporary, and appealing to all ages. Another piece is a sensitive book by Tony winner Steven Levenson. When Pasek had the idea for Dear Evan Hansen, he had to find someone who would treat the matter with a delicate hand. Levenson has brought each character to life with such clarity and an insight into the human experience that you are forced to step into shoes that may be ill-fitting or uncomfortable to examine your own vulnerabilities.
Of course, none of this could be brought to the stage without the actors. Those amazing (sorry, Stephen), passionate, and masterful actors. Ciara Alyse Harris plays the perfectionist Alana Beck, astute and desperate to maintain her rigid overachiever status. Alessandro Costantini's Jared Kleinman is detestable yet pitiable, his sarcastic exterior acting as a safeguard to his frangible heart. Stephanie La Rochelle is Zoe Murphy, sister of the ruined Connor, whose clear voice beguiles Evan in numbers such as "Only Us." As a mother, I painfully related to the parents in the cast. Jessica E. Sherman is Heidi Hansen, Evan's mom, and desperate to relate to her son on some level in order to stay connected. John Hemphill's Larry Murphy and Coleen Sexton's Cynthia Murphy are parents to Connor and Zoe and plagued with such guilt that they will grasp at anything that will give them an illusion of comfort.
I found myself longing for that same comfort, knowing Connor's fate and wishing that time could be turned back. You see, my son's friend was our "Connor." We knew our own Evan, who wanted nothing more than to give the Murphys those ameliorated images to hold on to. Our "Connor's" death also brought people to seek refuge in each other. They know that everyone matters and that "no one deserves to be forgotten." Much like the symbolism of the orchard, they come together each year to commemorate a person who thought he was ultimately alone. The show's duo blurs the line between real life and fiction so much as to be indistinguishable. Dear Evan Hansen's Connor, Noah Kieserman, lent an eventual vulnerability to the role that I was searching for in the jaded and sullen teenager. Kieserman absolutely KNOWS that people will reject him, so he has to push them away first. There was some comic relief, however, in his number with Evan, "Sincerely, Me." Conversely, Stephen Christopher Anthony's Evan Hansen flounders about socially, wishing he could talk to people without sweaty hands and constant apologies. Anthony's comedic timing peppers the show with laughs and actual joy, giving respite from the looming spectre of Connor's decision and making Dear Evan Hansen, ultimately, a lesson on healing and friendship. His turn in "For Forever" was a poignant ode to friendship so heartfelt that you can believe it actually happened. Anthony had some huge shoes to fill, coming to a character that is synonymous with its Tony Award-winning originator, Ben Platt. Well, he filled them.
Dear Evan Hansen, thank you for being here. Thank you for reminding us that everyone matters. Thank you for suspending your orchestra in the air. Thank you for making me cry with "You Will Be Found." Thank you for creating one of the most powerful pieces that I have ever seen with "Waving Through a Window." Thank you for helping to erase the stigma. Thank you for saying, "Today you're just you and that's enough." Thank you for being amazing. Sincerely, Theatregoers everywhere
Tickets for Dear Evan Hansen start at $48, and are available now at the Broadway Sacramento Box Office, 1419 H Street, Sacramento, or by calling (916) 557-1999; they are also available at the Memorial Auditorium Box Office, 1515 J Street, Sacramento, or by calling (916) 808-5181, or online at BroadwaySacramento.com.
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy