Stephen Christopher Anthony and the North American Company of Dear Evan Hansen. Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2018
Dear Evan Hansen
Book by Steven Levenson
Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul
Directed by Michael Greif
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents copyright © 2019 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
A great story, well told, could and should move the audience into feeling something. Whether it’s empathy for the protagonist’s plight, revulsion at the villain’s crimes, or laughing at a clown’s antics, if you don’t come away from a tale without feeling something, then the author/actors/director/etc. have failed their audience.
I came away from Dear Evan Hansen, the touring production currently playing at the Kentucky Center, feeling so many emotions I was almost overwhelmed. The show had a lot more humor than expected, and plenty of heart and emotion, but the most shocking thing was how much it resonated. I dare say anyone who sees the show will feel aspects of themselves in at least one of the characters or their struggles, and it is truly one of the popular Broadway shows that deserves its acclaimed reputation.
Without giving too much away (the plot contains some surprises, and they start early), the story tells of the titular character Evan Hansen (Stephen Christopher Anthony), a troubled teen with no real friends, child of a broken home, and a bundle of anxiety. Through a string of circumstances that he really has no control over, he ends up caught in a lie that escalates beyond his ability to contain it, insinuating himself as a surrogate son to another grieving family while he gets more and more removed from his own.
Compared with most modern Broadway musicals, the show is unusually dialogue-heavy, but it’s nicely punctuated by a number of pop ballads from Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, with a strong book by Steven Levenson. Emotions run strong throughout, leaving nary a dry eye in the house.
As Evan, Anthony gives a poignant performance with many layers (although at times, he talks so fast you can’t understand what he’s saying), obviously one that carries the show and gives the audience a firm entry into the story. Jessica E. Sherman gives the show’s most powerful turn as his mother Heidi, a single mom who spends all her time at work or taking classes, all to give her son a future; but in the process driving him away. Her ten o’clock number, “So Big/So Small” is the most powerful of the evening and left the audience sobbing.
The rest of the cast is also first-rate, particularly John Hemphill and Claire Rankin as grieving parents who place their hopes in Evan, Ciara Alyse Harris as Alana, Evan’s firecracker of a school chum, and Noah Kieserman as the troubled teen Connor, whose actions set the plot in motion. Probably most memorable though, is the much-needed comic relief provided by Alessandro Costantini as Jared, Evan’s “family friend” reluctantly pulled into the ever-increasing web of deception. Not a bad performance in the lot.
It’s worth mentioning the design team of David Korins (Scenic), Peter Nigrini (Production), Japhy Weidemann (Lighting), and Nevin Steinberg (Sound). The basic set is simple enough, just a few furniture pieces moving on or off to indicate different locations. But the ever-present barrage of the projections and sound effects that constantly cover the stage, indicating laptop and smartphone screens and all the sights and sounds the many websites and apps create, is truly amazing to behold. At times it can be a bit distracting, but it perfectly displays the type of screen-addiction today’s teens are raised on, and at times really drives home the points the plot is making.
Succeeding on just about every level, Dear Evan Hansen demonstrates that musicals are not just fluff, but can truly create thought-provoking material as relevant as any other medium.
Featuring Stephen Christopher Anthony, Alessandro Costantini, Ciara Alyse Harris, John Hemphill, Noah Kieserman, Stephanie La Rochelle, Claire Rankin, and Jessica E. Sherman.
Dear Evan Hansen
October 1-6, 2019
PNC Broadway in Louisville
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY, 40202
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. In 2019 he launched Theatre Reprise with Jeremy Guitterez. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo