Saturday, April 16, 2016

Dear Evan Hansen ****

Fresh from a highly acclaimed run at Arena Stage in Washington, this bracing new musical with music and lyrics by Benj Hasek and Justin Paul (Dogfight and A Christmas Story: The Musical, both of which I admired) and book by Steven Levenson (The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin, which I did not) is now running at Second Stage. Levenson’s well-crafted book brings the oft-told tale of a teenage misfit trying to cope with the torments of high school up to date for today’s world of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Kickstarter -- social media that are all too available to magnify and commodify events that used to remain private. The title character (a superb Ben Platt) inadvertently becomes involved in a misunderstanding and, through his efforts to be kind to the parents of Connor Murphy (Mike Faist) a classmate who has committed suicide, becomes enveloped in a quicksand of lies. Evan has a difficult relationship with his stressed-out single mother Heidi (a fine Rachel Bay Jones) who is too swamped with work and night school to provide him with the attention he craves. Larry and Cynthia Murphy (John Dossett and a moving Jennifer Laura Thompson), Connor’s grieving and unhappily wed parents, are comforted by the stories Evan manufactures for them and make him almost a family member. An added benefit for Evan is that he is able to spend more time with their daughter Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss) on whom he has long had a crush. Alana Beck (Kristolyn Lloyd) and Jared Kleinman (Will Roland) provide comic relief as two classmates who assist Evan with his deception. The contemporary pop score is well-integrated into the book. The emotional moments are quite gripping. David Korins’s set design has round platforms that whirl in and out of sight and black backdrops for the projection of social media. Emily Rebholz’s costumes befit the characters. Michael Greif (Next to Normal and Grey Gardens) once again shows his skill in directing thought-provoking musicals. The audience, far younger than the usual subscription crowd, loved it. I would not be surprised if a transfer to Broadway is in the works. Running time: 2 1/2 hours, including intermission.

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