The touring company of the celebrated international smash hit musical Dear Evan Hansen is now at Philadelphia’s Forrest Theatre until August 28.
Dear Evan Hansen (hereinafter DEH) enjoys a Book by Tony-Award-Winning Steven Levenson, Score by Tony, Grammy, Academy Award and Olivier Award winning team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (known also for La La Land and The Greatest Showman), and Directed by four-time-Tony-Award-nominee Michael Greif.
The cast cannot be better. Cast from strength, everyone shines in this musical. Anthony Norman is an ideal Evan. Totally believable, he personifies most of his generation. His life revolves around an institutional high school, a cold, narcissistic mother, a few creepy friends, curious bullies, his own lack of self-confidence and social graces, and the loneliness born of isolation, which is made tolerable by social media.
Nikhil Saboo is Connor Murphy, a troubled teen born of wealth and a normal, American home. He does not fit in, and is resented by his father and sister for demanding attention in the wrong way. He does his best with the character he is given, rising to better scenes in imagined conversations after his suicide. Sister Zoe Murphy is played with deep and rich skill by Alaina Anderson. By turning petulant, insulting, demanding, domineering, wounded, caring, and ultimately loving, hers is a performance to treasure.
Coleen Sexton is Heidi Hansen, a divorced woman who works and goes to school to claw her way out of need, and to live paycheck-to-paycheck, as most of us do. Her son has become little more than a house pet or inconvenience. Her narcissism is such that she barges into her grown son’s bedroom, even asking why he shuts his computer when she barges in, because Evan doesn’t deserve courtesy, since Heidi clearly doesn’t feel he deserves it. She spends ten minutes a day to fulfill her obligation as a parent before she leaves to live her life. Heidi does check to see if Evan eats in her absence, again, like a master and house pet. There are astonishing, vicious confrontations in Act Two between and among the Murphys, whose dinner guest she is, and later, she belittles Evan in her fiercely aggressive “Good For You.” Heidi cannot stand that other adults like Evan and want to fund his future, and that he has Zoe as a girlfriend. All, seemingly, without her permission! She is given a strange song “So Big/So Small” completely against the grain of her character, where she professes her love for the son she has so abused and neglected.
Act One can be said to be the story of how Evan seeks to please the Murphys by providing stories which bring solace to the grieving parents. Evan then gets entangled by the psychotic narcissism of Alana Beck, superbly acted by Micaela Lamas, which ensnares him evermore in his fabrications. Act Two is the fall from the happiness he’s brought to the Murphys, Alana’s hysterical hatred and efforts to destroy Evan, His mother’s bipolar mood swings, and social media’s fickle nature swinging from adulation to hatred. Some may have expected Evan to commit suicide at this point. Everything in the plot pointed to it. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case.
DEH is a retelling of the Icarus tale in that Icarus sought to rise above the mundane and achieve. Evan sought to please, and was beaten down by his fellows.
Spoiler alert. The musical ends in deep melancholy. Heidi has had her wish. Evan must work and go to community college part time without the Murphys’ sponsorship. Zoe is rudderless in her wealth and privilege, destined to follow the rules of her caste. Larry and Cynthia Murphy, we are told, mourn Connor’s suicide years after the fact, their lives miserable and empty. We are left with no one being happy together, living a pleasant fiction which could have benefitted all concerned. Now everyone is sadder, wiser, and must struggle alone with their regrets, memories, and dubious hopes.
With that said, you absolutely must see DEH for yourself.
It speaks to all of us on so many levels.
Dear Evan Hansen is part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Philadelphia season, now playing at the Forrest Theatre until August 28.
On opening night, the audience lined up around the block to gain entrance, so be prepared to stand for 30 minutes or more.