Friday, March 10, 2017

Dear Evan Hansen

I saw it! I finally saw it! I purchased a ticked from Stubhub twenty minutes before curtain and ran to the theatre, but that is a story for another day. I resisted the urge to listen to the cast recording before I saw the show and I'm so glad I did. 

In terms of storytelling and musical tone, I would say this show is the child of Rent and Next to Normal, which interestingly enough, were both directed by Michael Greif. Pasek and Paul's songs serve the characters, and the book brings the characters to a place where they can sing. They live harmoniously in the world of Steven Levenson's book. This isn't a show where you feel the actors are breaking into song. The songs come from such a natural place and they grow out of the dialogue in the sense that you feel they're singing a conversation, not a song. 

Ben Platt's voice is in tip top shape, though it's his acting that truly shines. I saw the show several months into the run and he was giving an opening night performance. The nuance with which he colors his portrayal of Evan is both heartwarming and devastating, depending on the scene. "So Big/So Small" is a highlight for his mother Heidi (Rachel Bay Jones). She sings about how difficult single motherhood is and performances like these are why the "best feature actress" category was create for the TONYs. Laura Dreyfuss in the role of Zoe is so reminiscent of Natalie in Next to Normal, another show helmed by Greiff, in her ability to show vulnerability under a hard exterior. Will Roland gives another standout performance as Jared, Evan's family friend, who helps him build his web of lies and provides comic relief in and otherwise heavy show.

I sat in the second row of the orchestra and I don't think I've ever seen such raw emotion on an actor's face as I saw on Ben Platt's, particularly during his speech before he sings "You Will Be Found". I am a teacher and I have many students who, like Evan, suffer from social anxiety. In the hands of a less capable actor, Evan could have easily become a caricature or a joke, but Platt plays him with such honesty and humanity. His facial expressions and vocal inflections are reminiscent of those I see everyday in the classroom as children struggle to make friends and fit in. I'm sure that they feel invisible like Evan and Connor. I only wish they could see this fantastic production and find hope that one day things will be different and they will only have to be themselves.

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