• Nate Adams

'Dear Evan Hansen' review: Broadway tour reminds theatergoers why this musical is special


Courtesy of Broadway in Detroit

 

Remember last year when the film adaptation of “Dear Evan Hansen” came out and it was absolutely eviscerated by critics and the general population? (I gave it a “B” but that’s besides the point). After seeing the current tour, which made its Detroit premiere after being halted in 2020 because of the pandemic, it’s easy to understand why folks had their grievances with the film as it came and went without so much as a whimper. While I thought Ben Platt’s performance in the movie was serviceable and he sounded fine, watching it live with a much younger performer in the lead role (Platt was 27) helps put into perspective the show’s silver lining about finding your inner self. In other words, it strikes a different tone on the stage versus the silver screen. We already knew this, but it took a rousing live performance with an incredible eight person company to fully appreciate the scope of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s lyrics. Funny how that works. 


In this performance, Anthony Norman turns in an outstanding lead performance as the titular Evan Hansen, an anxiety riddled and socially challenged high-schooler who gets caught in a massive lie that turns into something bigger than himself. While the performance of the show's breakthrough hit “Waving Through a Window” might have underwhelmed, as the night progressed Norman easily narrowed down the tics and mannerisms of the character, evolving Evan into a sympathetic personality.


The main plot, of course, rides on a note Evan, at  the request of both his therapist and mother (Coleen Sexton), wrote to himself to help rebuild his confidence. The letter finds itself in the possession of Connor Murphy (Nikhil Saboo), a troubled teen who many in the school think is a psychopath, after taking his own life, leaving the false impression he was best friends with Evan. Connor’s overbearing parents (John Hemphill and Lili Thomas - exceptional) who didn’t really know their son are touched by this discovery (they can’t believe their distant child had a trusted pal) and immediately welcome Evan into their lives. Rather than confess and tell the truth, Evan goes along with the assumption even as it balloons into a massive, full-blown fabrication complete with doctored emails and photos while also using his newfound popularity to get closer to Connor’s sister, Zoe (Alaina Anderson) who he’s crushing on. 


Obviously, it’s extremely problematic, but the crux of “Dear Evan Hansen'' isn’t about the mistakes this teeanger makes, but the mental wellbeing of a kid who finally has acceptance among his peers. It helps give urgency to the Act I closer “You Will Be Found” which confirms the validity of Evan’s daily struggles and documents the cruel isolation he’s endured. You might ask yourself why someone would lie on a scale of this magnitude, but seeing the way Evan is treated and misunderstood you might not blame him. After all, his only real friend is a family acquaintance named Jared (Pablo David Lucerica - solid) who keeps things transactional so his dad will keep paying for the car insurance. 


The entire company brings Steven Levenson’s script to life as does the immaculate scenic work by David Korins with projections by Peter Nigrini. Unlike the movie, which couldn’t convey this scale of immersion, the set is a revolving door of projections and computer screens. It offers a larger than life worldview into the digital age and how teeangers communicate via social media and other viral means. The texts and imagery on stage are in constant flux, showing what appears to be live Twitter feeds alongside incoming call blocks and FaceTime messages. The scenery takes on a life of its own and the way it complements Evan’s emotions is something you could never experience on a small screen. The Act I finale is a stunner. 


Director Michael Grief builds a solid foundation for his actors and makes sure they’re never lost as they weave through the various projectile messages splattered across the stage; Costumes by Emily Rebholz do a fine job encapsulating the aurora of teeangers (the iconic blue polo, khaki pants, and arm cast remain unscathed); and Japhy Weideman’s effective lightning is a technical feat considering how complicated and concise the projections are. Music direction by Garret Healey swells with Danny Medford’s ace choreography. 


“Dear Evan Hansen” didn’t leave many dry eyes in the house during its opening night Detroit performance, signaling the loyalists are still coming out in force and that it engages with a broader audience. The production didn’t quite move me to tears, but I could see how, within the show’s emotional core, that could trigger a response, especially with younger, impressionable teeangers. What matters is “Dear Evan Hansen” sends audiences out the door with a sense of gratification and hopefulness about breaking through glass barriers and realizing they don’t always have to be on the outside looking in. 


IF YOU GO: 


Performance times for the Dear Evan Hansen appearing September 27 – October 9, 2022 at the Fisher Theatre located at 3011 W. Grand Blvd., in Detroit are:

Tuesday through Saturday evening performances at 8:00 p.m.

Saturday & Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m.

Sunday evening performances at 7:30 p.m.

Special Open Caption performance on Sunday, October 2 at 7:30 p.m.

 

Tickets for Dear Evan Hansen start at $50 (includes facility fee). Tickets can be purchased online at ticketmaster.com, by phone at 800-982-2787, and in person at the Fisher Theatre Box Office. A limited number of premium seats will be available through Ticketmaster and at the Fisher Theatre Box Office.


For group sales (10 or more) please email broadwayindetroitgroups@theambassadors.com or call 313-871-1132.