Dear Evan Hansen (National Tour)
Ben Levi-Ross as Evan Hansen. Photo: Matthew Murphy.

Dear Evan Hansen (National Tour)

Book by Steven Levenson
Score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Directed by Michael Grief
Starring Ben Levi Ross, Maggie McKenna, Jessica Phillips, Christiane Noll, Aaron Lazar, Marrick Smith, Jared Goldsmith, Phoebe Koyabe
Curran theater, San Francisco, through December 30, 2018
https://sfcurran.com/

The national tour of “Dear Evan Hansen,” a contemporary, yet multi-generational, poignant yet uplifting musical show just rocketed into San Francisco’s Curran theater. Don’t wait to see this winner of six 2017 Tony Awards® including Best Musical. There is a digital ticket lottery through which one can purchase a limited number of $25 tickets per performance.

Skillfully directed by Michael Greif (“Rent”), “Dear Evan Hansen” is the moving story of high-schooler Evan Hansen (excellent Ben Levi Ross), a lonely, shy hypersensitive teenager who is painfully aware of his shortcomings. He lives with his divorced, overworked mother, Heidi (outstanding Jessica Phillips). Evan’s therapist had suggested that Evan write daily pep-talk letters to himself.

Through the kind of coincidence that almost rings true, a school bully and misfit Connor Murphy (nice job by Marrick Smith), absconds with one of Evan’s self-help letters. When Connor notices that no one has signed the cast on Evan’s broken arm, he scratches his signature on it in giant letters.

This small episode could have been forgotten, but for Connor’s (unexplained) suicide a few days later and the discovery and misunderstanding of Evan’s letter by Connor’s grieving parents, stay-at-home mom, Cynthia (lovely-voiced Christiane Noll) and lawyer dad, Larry (effective acting by Aaron Lazar). Connor’s parents and his sister, Zoe (fresh-faced, expressive Maggie McKenna), on whom Evan has a big crush, believe that a kinder Connor than the one they knew wrote a caring letter to Evan.

They grasp on to this belief and . . . onto Evan. From that misinterpretation, a tongue-tied Evan’s desires for affection and attention and the grief of Connor’s family combine with some self-serving schoolmates of Evan’s and Connor’s (fine work by Jared Goldsmith and Phoebe Koyabe), to orbit Connor’s death into an internet brouhaha of the first order. And so, before he knows or wants it, Evan Hansen becomes a social media star under a calamitous pretense. How Evan copes with his deception and how the experience changes him is the heart of this sensitive and subtle story.

Although “Dear Evan Hansen” has been touted as a musical for the young, no matter our age, we can all see a little bit of our high school selves in Evan. He’s an anti-hero, a flawed, yet lovable and identifiable adolescent. Those of us who are parents can identify with the self-blaming, grieving parents, as well as with Evan’s mother who loves her son, but can’t get past his remoteness to fully understand him.

The score of this musical by Grammy®, Tony® and Academy Award® winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman”), although effectively used to expound on the emotions of the characters, seems almost an afterthought to Steven Levenson’s book and the nuanced acting by the fine cast. And there is a sameness of tone and style to the ballads, all accompanied by a small band of a guitar and strings. The first act climactic song, which is reprised in the second act, “You Will Be Found” however, is memorable.

“Dear Evan Hansen” with its flawed lead character who we watch grow into his true self, shines with subtlety and originality. It’s a welcome addition to the modern musical genre.

Emily S. Mendel
emilymendel@gmail.com
©Emily S. Mendel 2018 All Rights Reserved

San Francisco ,
Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to culturevulture.net since 2006, where she reviews theater, art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for berkeleyside.com.