A musical that focuses on a socially awkward teen, a suicide, grieving parents and the impacts of viral social media does not sound like uplifting theater. However, “Dear Evan Hansen,” which won Best Musical at the 2017 Tony Awards and opened Oct. 19, 2018, at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, provides a surprisingly stirring evening, demonstrating why the show is a hot ticket in New York and this first national tour shattered Ahmanson advance sales records.
The show won five other Tony Awards besides Best Musical, including ones for score, book, lead actor, featured actress, lighting design and orchestration. The Grammy winning soundtrack was a hit, with several songs regularly played on streaming services. So, it is no wonder that the production, which features several people from the Broadway ensemble is being warmly welcomed – deservedly so!
“Dear Evan Hansen” is not the usual romantic, or tragic, musical plot. It deals with an anxious adolescent and his runaway lie about another student’s suicide that explodes on social media. The staging and acting bring to life the story about teenage fragility, parents feeling they sacrificed for children they do not really know, and the head-snapping speed in which viral media attention can become yesterday’s news.
Buoyed by several memorable songs, the musical’s plot centers on Evan (Ben Levi Ross, credible in displaying angst in his portrayal and singing), a anxiety-ridden, lonely teenager whose therapist prescribed writing letters to himself to boost his confidence as prescribed by his therapist. While his single mom works or goes to school, he spends his evenings alone. As he sings in “Waving Through a Window,” he is tired of being “on the outside always looking in. Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?”
When another student, Connor Murphy (Marrick Smith), kills himself, his parents discover one of Evan’s notes in his pocket and believe it to be their son’s suicide note. Longing to soothe Conner’s parents, get close to his sister, Zoe (Maggie McKenna), and feel like he belongs somewhere, Evan tells them that he and Conner were best friends. That lie rapidly spirals out of control, affecting the entire school and eventually going viral online because others can relate to being invisible. As the ensemble sings in“Disappear:” “No one deserves to be forgotten. No one should flicker out or have any doubt; that it matters that they are here. No one deserves to disappear.” In the showstopper ending act one, Evan and Co. convey the hope to others who feel alone: “Even when the dark comes crashing through, when you need a friend to carry you, when you’re broken on the ground … You will be found.”
The two mothers – the rich, grief-stricken Cynthia Murphy (Christiane Noll) and the overwhelmed but tenacious struggling single mom, Heidi Hansen (Jessica Phillips) – both have scene-stealing moments and music. They convey the fact that parents often feel inadequate and, no matter their economic status, do not always know what is going on in their children’s lives.
In between catchy songs – and some not so catchy – “Dear Evan Hansen” hits home with its look at teen traumas, despair and explosive messages on social media. Most attendees will recognize themselves in the show; even if they seemed to have it all together in school, it emphasizes reaching out to others.
Those interested in seeing the national tour of “Dear Evan Hansen” should get tickets quickly. It will be in Los Angeles at the Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre through November 25, then goes on to Tempe, AZ, where it is reportedly sold out. It will be in San Francisco in December, before returning to Southern California and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in January, and moving elsewhere across the country in 2019.
By Dyanne Weiss
Performance Oct. 19, 2018
Center Theatre Group
Dear Evan Hansen national tour website
Photo of Ben Levi Ross and the cast of the First North American Tour of “Dear Evan Hansen” by Matthew Murphy, courtesy of Center Theatre Group.
Photo by Matthew Murphy of, L-R, Ben Levi Ross as Evan Hansen, along with Aaron Lazar, Christiane Noll and Maggie McKenna as the Murphy family in “Dear Evan Hansen.”