Broadway in Chicago presents DEAR EVAN HANSEN Review: Unforgettable and Heartfelt Storytelling

Broadway in Chicago DEAR EVAN HANSEN
Ben Levi Ross as 'Evan Hansen' and the Company of the First North American Tour of Dear Evan Hansen Matthew Murphy

“On the outside, always looking in
Will I ever be more than I've always been?
'Cause I'm tap, tap, tapping on the glass
I'm waving through a window
So I wait around for an answer to appear
While I'm watch, watch, watching people pass
I'm waving through a window, oh
Can anybody see, is anybody waving back at me? ”
(Waving Through a Window, DEAR EVAN HANSEN)

Connor Murphy pushes Evan Hansen to the ground. Immediately, the lights switch, putting a spot on the title character as he sings Waving Through a Window, the second song of the score. The piece is certainly one of the more popular tunes of show, which no doubt influenced some of the energy feeding into the cheers that erupted in this opening night audience when the song ended. The song is the perfect reminder of that which the show is really about--We all want to be seen.  We all want to be heard.   No one ever really wants to be alone. The story that follows is a roller coaster ride of emotions.  This writer advises that you buckle up for the journey!

 

Broadway in Chicago presents Dear Evan Hansen

With book by Steven Levenson and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the musical follows Evan Hansen (Ben Levi Ross, with remarkable talent and emotional honesty) as he finds himself thrust into a life he never imagined he could have. When student Connor Murphy (Marrick Smith) takes his own life and Evan Hansen’s secret letter is discovered, a story unfolds about a hidden best friendship between the two. Before Evan realizes it, he has fallen into a web of lies with no easy escape. As he falls deeper and finds himself starting to fit into a life of friendships and love, he starts to wonder if the truth is really worth it.  Directed by Michael Greif, Dear Evan Hansen offers a deeply personal and frighteningly real portrayal of how we walk through life so focused on a specific purpose that we lose sight of each other – sometimes only to realize when it becomes too late.

Broadway in Chicago DEAR EVAN HANSEN
Ben Levi Ross as 'Evan Hansen' and Jessica Phillips as 'Heidi Hansen' in the First North American Tour of Dear Evan Hansen Matthew Murphy

Masterfully Crafted

The stage is filled with consistent social media. Columns of screens, as well as a larger screen at the back of the stage, broadcast a constant feed of Facebook posts, tweets, Instagram photos, and text messages.  (Scenic Designer David Korins and Project Designer Peter Nigrini ) When we meet a new character, their Facebook page is broadcasted on a screen, or when Evan and Jared Kleinman (Jared Goldsmith, with impeccable comedic timing) converse, the audience can see their text thread appear above. As Evan’s lie about his alleged best friendship with Connor starts to spiral, he begins a group called the Connor Project, which is an online forum that is meant to allow anyone who wishes to contribute to share their feelings about his death. We as an audience are able to see the project take over the internet before us, as well as the overstimulation of screens and social media.

Broadway in Chicago DEAR EVAN HANSEN
The Company of the First North American Tour of Dear Evan Hansen Matthew Murphy

In You Will Be Found, which is the closer for Act One, when Ross wows the audience with his vocal talent in the song that is Evan’s speech at Connor’s memorial, the video makes its way to the internet and as the speech unfolds.  Meanwhile,  the ensemble walks about the stage, finding obstacles through new screens and posts that catch their attention. Rarely do they walk together, but rather each character is in their own world.  For this writer, the director’s staging to  physicalize the impacts of social media on human connection, and the fascinating contradiction between being in constant communication with the world, but also being entirely isolated is masterful.

Moving Score

Many are already likely familiar with hits in this score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul such as Waving Through a Window, For Forever, You Will be Found, and Only Us.  These songs are what most transport us  on the wild, emotional journeys of loneliness, love, heartbreak, and acceptance in this story.

For this writer, one especially standout song is Requiem, which takes place in the Murphy household, offering the audience a window into how each individual is handling Connor’s death. As Connor’s mom, Cynthia (Christiane Noll, with heartbreaking emotional depth) cries over her loss, her husband, Larry (Aaron Lazar) must navigate his own complicated emotions with a struggling father/son relationship. Then there is Zoe (Maggie McKenna), who must battle with her own confusion about how well she really knew her brother. Each actor is placed in their own section of the Murphy house, allowing them to have their moments of grief in their own way. Lyrics and music aptly capture the very real and challenging emotions that can follow a death. The actors in the Murphy family ensemble perform it with a brutal sense of honesty.

 

Broadway in Chicago DEAR EVAN HANSEN
Ben Levi Ross as 'Evan Hansen' and Jessica Phillips as 'Heidi Hansen' in the First North American Tour of Dear Evan Hansen Matthew Murphy

This musical certainly tackles the darker moments of life, but also leaves room for fun, happy releases. Sincerely, Me appears earlier in the musical, and showcasing Jared and Evan’s attempts to add some “proof” to Evan’s friendship with Connor. As the two build a fake email chain, their imaginations get carried away, allowing for some much-needed light-hearted laughter from Goldsmith and Ross’ hilarious portrayals – especially as we witness some of Choreographer Danny Mefford’s elements of secret handshakes.

A brilliant score and stunning production make Dear Evan Hansen, for this writer, one that simply should not be missed. You will not forget the experience any time time soon.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.

Watch this video showing the TOP PICK PLAYS of 2019

When

Running through March 10, 2019

Tuesdays at 7:30pm
Wednesdays at 7:30pm
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 2:00pm and 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:00pm and 7:30pm

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with intermission.

Where:

James M. Nederlander Theatre
24 W. Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60601

 

For tickets and information, see the Broadway in Chicago website.

Photo credit

Photos: Matthew Murphy

Note: Excerpts of Picture this Post reviews appear in Theatre in Chicago.

About the Author:

Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.

Click here to read more Picture this Post stories by Lauren Katz.

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