This post is about a matinee theater outing on February 15th to see the brand new, original, Obie Award-winning musical DEAR EVAN HANSEN which is being very eagerly awaited after stunning receptions following both its opening in Washington, DC at the Arena Stage and its run last Spring, here in New York, at the Second Stage theater. Tickets are $150. Members, please click on either the “Sign-Up!” link on the menu ribbon on the Members’ site homepage or go to the Reservations/ Payment page.
Equal parts NEXT TO NORMAL, CURIOUS INCIDENT, RENT and PITCH PERFECT, the musical DEAR EVAN HANSEN pulls off the seemingly impossible. It takes the social maladjustment of youth – and some serious repercussions which result from it – and spins it into a terrific production with soaring music. And somewhere along the way, it makes you relive your own misfit self at various points on the path to adulthood. But because this is 2016 and emotional exposure is given an extended life via social media, DEAR EVAN HANSEN uses this still new industry almost as a character – one which inserts itself into the plot and the characterizations of everyone on the stage.
Evan Hansen is played by Ben Platt (PITCH PERFECT) with just the right mix of awkwardness, dearness – and wariness. Evan has always been an outsider. When he very foolishly inserts himself in a key role in another family’s tragedy he becomes entangled in a series of lies and misperceptions which ultimately boost his social status. The outsider suddenly becomes an insider. The tension here relates to how long he can maintain his deception or risk giving up the considerable social equity he has achieved and longed for.
The creative geniuses behind DEAR EVAN HANSEN are well on their way to redefining the American book musical where the “book” explores an often less linear plot and a wide range of emotions from its characters. In particular, the play’s songwriting duo, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, are considered to be the leaders of the “YouTube Musical Theater Writers” group who use that social media platform – and others – to test and promote their work. Before DEAR EVAN HANSEN even opened, two of its best known songs – “WAVING THROUGH A WINDOW” and “SONG OF SUMMER” – already had a considerable followng. Director Michael Greif (RENT, NEXT TO NORMAL) and playwright Steven Levenson (who has collaborated with Adam Rapp, from RENT) contribute to the work’s neo-musical bona fides.
So why is everyone going ga-ga about DEAR EVAN HANSEN? Could it be that Pasek and Paul seem poised to be the contemporary Rodgers & Hammerstein, reaching out to a new generation of musical theater lovers? Could it be that this seems to be such a strong signal about the evolution of a unique art form – the American musical? Could it be that the use of a sort of expository pop-rock brings a modern and emotional edge to this form of story-telling? Could it be that after a generation of the archness and minor keys of Sondheim, this type of musical offers flat-out, heart-bending singability? Could it be that DEAR EVAN HANSEN finds hope and authenticity from a work which dwells on loneliness and grief? Uh, YES, because it is ALL of these things – which means if you’re a student of theater, and particularly musical theater, this is a very important work to see.