As a result of the recent redesign of The Wall Street Journal, my drama reviews will now appear throughout the week rather than on Fridays only. In today’s paper I cover the Broadway transfer of Dear Evan Hansen. Here’s an excerpt.
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At a time when the musical is showing clear signs of creative senility, it’s heartening to report that “Dear Evan Hansen,” a small-scale show that has transferred to Broadway after successful runs at Washington’s Arena Stage and New York’s Second Stage, is as good as its buzz. It’s smartly crafted, emotionally open-hearted and ideally cast. What’s more, it’s pitched to and has been embraced by millennials, a tradition-resistant cohort whose members have hitherto steered clear of most Broadway musicals—yet its appeal is universal. Whatever your age, you’ll watch “Dear Evan Hansen” with the shock of recognition, and be touched by the honesty with which it portrays the smothering sensation of being an adolescent misfit, an awkward loser trapped in an indifferent world of self-assured winners….
“Dear Evan Hansen” is a dead-serious comedy about teenage suicide that is structured like a farce. The title character (played with astonishing conviction and absolute believability by Ben Platt) is an incapacitatingly shy nerd who writes a self-revealing letter that gets into the wrong hands, touching off a train of coincidence fueled by the social media that causes him to become…well, popular. But Evan’s popularity is based on a well-meaning lie, one that he ultimately finds impossible to keep on telling—at which point the roof falls in.
Up to a point, the situation that propels “Dear Evan Hansen” is played for laughs, and gets them. But the overall tone is entirely earnest, and while the comedy (which includes a terrific first-act ensemble number, “Sincerely, Me”) leavens this earnestness, it doesn’t dilute it. In fact, the second act, in which we get a closer look at the desperately unhappy family lives of the principal characters, is joltingly dark. Fortunately, the singer-songwritery score, by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, has a light, fresh texture that keeps lugubriousness at bay…
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Read the whole thing here.
Ben Platt and Laura Dreyfuss perform “Waving Through a Window,” a song from Dear Evan Hansen, on Late Night with Seth Meyers: