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Dear Evan Hansen ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
August 11, 2019 

Four years ago, Dear Evan Hansen premiered at Arena Stage under the direction and guidance of Molly Smith and Edgar Dobie.  The angsty teen musical starred Ben Platt who subsequently became a huge star when the show went to Broadway where it won six Tony Awards in 2017 plus a Grammy for “Best Musical Theater Album” in 2018.  Before seeing this national touring company production, I reread my original review, which surprisingly, was quite specific as to the pros and cons.

Ben Levi Ross as ‘Evan Hansen’ and the Company of the First North American Tour of Dear Evan Hansen. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Although a fresh, new concept in musical theater, I noted the production seemed overly cloying and needed work with some of the songs.  More specifically, I was eager to see the show get some much-needed, strategic editing and a sharper focus.  From my August 2015 review:  “The show loses momentum as the characters’ roles are overly fleshed out and side stories stretch into distractions.  Another bump is the annoying repetition of lyrics and all too frequent use of falsetto called for in the songs.”  Thankfully the overuse of falsetto is gone.  Gone too is the annoying repetition of some lyrics, and the story now is now focused on a universal, multi-generational message that truly resonates.

Ben Levi Ross as ‘Evan Hansen,’ Aaron Lazar as ‘Larry Murphy,’ Christiane Noll as ‘Cynthia Murphy’ and Maggie McKenna as ‘Zoe Murphy’. Photo by Matthew Murphy

I give huge credit to producers Stacey Mindich, Wendy Orshan and Jeffrey M. Wilson who hung on tight and cherished the vision of Steven Levenson’s book, and the music and lyrics of Benj Pasek & Justin Paul by taking the musical to the next level – a more polished, fully developed, gorgeous musical that provides the audience with the humanity and humor it craves.

Ben Levi Ross as ‘Evan Hansen’ and Jessica Phillips as ‘Heidi Hansen’ in the First North American Tour of Dear Evan Hansen. Photo by Matthew Murphy

The coming-of-age story of Evan Hansen centers around a tormented teen raised by a single mother in the fraught age of social media.  Insecure and an outcast at school, Evan’s psychologist asks him to self-examine by writing letters to himself.  That alone doesn’t curb the bullying or bring him closer to his teen crush Zoe until the day Connor Murphy, a fellow outcast, takes his own life and a series of unconnected events offer Evan purpose to his lonely life, recognition from his peers, and a made-up tale for his broken arm.  “You play who you have to play,” his pal Jared advises him as he, Evan and Alana concoct a social media scheme to capitalize on Connor’s untimely death.  Unfortunately, the result proves how devastating Twitter and Facebook can be when used to promote a false narrative.  On a larger scale it can be socially and politically devastating as we have witnessed in our national political system.

Christiane Noll as ‘Cynthia Murphy’ and Jessica Phillips as ‘Heidi Hansen’ in the First North American Tour of Dear Evan Hansen. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Fans will thrill to Ben Levi Ross’ (Evan Hansen) galvanic voice in hits like “Waving Though a Window”, “For Forever”, “You Will be Found” and “Words Fail” which brings the house down.  Another high point is the beautiful and lyrical intensity actor Jessica Phillips (as Evans’ mother, Heidi) brings to the number, “So Big/So Small” which is when you wish you’d brought a handkerchief.

Highly recommended.  Moving and relatable, Dear Evan Hansen calls out to both parents and teens with truth and humor.

Also starring Jared Goldsmith as Jared Kleinman; Phoebe Koyabe as Alana Beck; Maggie McKenna as Zoe Murphy; Christiane Noll as Cynthia Murphy; Aaron Lazar as Larry Murphy and Marrick Smith as Connor Murphy.

Directed by Michael Greif; with Orchestrations & Original Arrangements by Alex Lacamoire; Costume Design by Emily Rebholz; Choreography by Danny Mefford; Scenic Design by David Korins; Projection Design by Peter Nigrini; Lighting Design by Japhy Weideman and Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg with the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra. 

Through September 8th at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467.4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

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