When Ben Platt, who portrays the titular character Evan Hansen in the new Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” emerged to a small, but sincerely appreciative crowd gathered outside the Music Box Theatre’s stage door, the mom next to me called out, “Mothers and daughters must see this together.”
I had gone to the production alone in the middle of my spring break trip to New York City. While the show’s exploration of family dynamics and the nuances of respective relationships allow for a pleasant family viewing, a solitary experience encourages further self-reflection.
“Dear Evan Hansen” revolves around the qualms of adolescent alienation. Hansen is a lonely teenager brought up by a single mom (Rachel Bay Jones), plagued by anxiety that prompts him to apologize and ramble frequently. In accordance to his therapist’s advise, Hansen writes letters to himself.
Despite belonging to the type of affluent nuclear family Hansen longs for, Connor Murphy (Mike Faist) is another case of teen isolation “lost in the in-between.” Their two paths cross in the school computer lab where Murphy misinterprets Hansen’s letter (in which Hansen mentions his longtime crush, Murphy’s sister Zoe) to be a direct attack.
Murphy kills himself not long after this run-in and Hansen’s letter is misinterpreted as his suicide note. From there, Hansen is entangled in a hurricane of lies as his struggle for acceptance manifests itself in a false narrative that spirals into a viral lie. For someone who’s “learned to slam on the break before [he] even [turns] the key,” the Murphy’s warm family environment is a glimpse of long-awaited sunshine.
With a score from Benj Hasek and Justin Paul (the creative duo behind film musical “La La Land”’s lyrics) and a book by Steven Levenson, the show generates hearty laughs with such comedic renditions as “Sincerely, Me,” while simultaneously eliciting sobs with heartbreaking ballads strewn throughout. Platt of “Book of Mormon” and “Pitch Perfect” fame relays a convincing portrayal of the trappings of anxiety. From subtle hand motions to slumped shoulders, Platt’s commitment to his character elevates the vulnerability of the show (cue more audience sniffles).
It is simply put, a modern musical. An original standout amongst the many revivals dominating the “Great White Way.” Social media is integrated throughout in a manner reminiscent of the musical “Hit List” from the NBC show “Smash” (which Pasek & Paul also wrote music for).
The act one finale, “You Will be Found,” returns in an act two reprise as a demonstration of the duplicity of social media. This promise of the technological age that validates and affirms alienated teens rears its ugly head as a haunting reminder of the ramifications of internet exposure. The spotlight we yearn for can be complimentary, but it can also turn on us and unmask all the insecurities and perceived deficiencies that can be cloaked by anonymity.
Dear Evan Hansen is currently playing at the Music Box Theatre. Its cast album is available for digital download and streaming.