If you haven’t made it to Arena Stage to see Dear Evan Hansen yet this summer, you only have a few days left to do so. Otherwise, you better start planning a trip to New York City, where the show will be moving for an Off Broadway run at Second Stage Theater. I had the privilege of seeing the show, which was written by Steven Levenson and directed by Michael Greif, with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, twice here in DC, and the brand-new musical impressed me two times over.
Telling the story of Evan Hansen, a socially anxious high schooler for which one small lie changes the course of his life, the musical weaved in themes of suicide, acceptance, and the impact of social media on modern-day society. After a misunderstanding with a troubled classmate, Evan finds himself enmeshed in the family he never had, a romance with his dream girl, and a level of popularity he couldn’t have imagined possible. Evan’s struggle to balance his good intentions with his desire to reveal his secret provides the motivation for the plot, which unravels over the course of several months in both the real and digital worlds.
The show featured stand-out performances from stars including Ben Platt of Pitch Perfect fame in the lead role, whose dramatic and vocal range is fully unleashed between the opening song and the final bow, and Laura Dreyfuss, who most recently appeared on the sixth season of Glee and who played off of Platt as his love interest with easy dexterity. Emmy award-winner Michael Park, who played Larry, the strong father figure that Evan never had, delivered an impressive portrayal of a man trying to remain the steady rock of his family while dealing with insurmountable grief. Jennifer Laura Thompson rounded out the family dynamic as Cynthia, mother of Zoe (Dreyfuss’s character) and Connor, played by Mike Faist, whose one fateful decision sets off a chain reaction of events that brings Evan in contact with the family. A knockout performance by powerhouse vocalist Rachel Bay Jones, who played Evan’s mother, further improved on the show’s already impressive musical elements, while comedic relief from Evan’s “family friend” Jared, played by Will Roland, enabled the audience to release some of the tension built up by the darker twists of the storyline. Evan’s schoolmate and social media pro Alana, played by Alexis Molnar, completed the cast as a character who represents the outside world and who, throughout the production, unwittingly acts as a catalyst for many of Evan’s questionable decisions regarding his new, and old, relationships.
Throughout both viewings of the show, I was consistently aware of how believable the characters were as real people; people who could be my friends, family members, or loved ones. They were completely convincing as everyday folks struggling through a difficult situation. What struck me most about Dear Evan Hansen, however, was the universality of its subject matter. Don’t we all just want to be acknowledged, accepted, and loved? Don’t we all face the challenge of pursuing our personal goals and meeting societal expectations, all without compromising our personal moral code? These are themes that surely everyone in the audience, and probably everyone in our neighborhood, can relate to in some way. Dear Evan Hansen examined the burdens we all bear with honesty, depth, and sensitivity, and despite the fact that the show’s time in Southwest DC is coming to an end, its message should resonate in the community long after it’s gone.
By: Julia Cole