THE MOVING SOLD OUT NATIONAL TOUR OF 'DEAR EVAN HANSEN' IS A THEATRICAL SENSATION
“All we see is sky for forever” as the powerhouse letters from a teenage boy storms into the Bay Area. DEAR EVAN HANSEN will steal your emotions and the songs will not stop ringing in your ears. The superb National tour cast headed by the incredible Ben Levi Ross is now on the Curran Stage only through December 30th -- brilliant book by Steven Levenson and Oscar winning songwriters/lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land). The winner of a six Tony Awards, including 2017’s Best Musical, this sold out Broadway sensation debuted its national touring cast in Denver in September and is the is ticket to win this Holiday season. The musical opened Dec 6th on the Geary stage to a rousing standing ovation.
In an interview with the SF Chron the two songwriters, Pasek and Paul, never guessed they would wind up with a hit. “We thought, ‘OK, this will be a show that reflects who we are as artists, we never saw it as a commercial piece,” Paul says. “Just as something we wanted to put out into the world.” Prior to DEAR EVAN HANSEN they wrote the stage musicals “James and the Giant Peach,” “Dogfight” and “A Christmas Story.” “We wanted to create a show that felt poetic, but also felt fresh and relevant.” They both worked on HANSEN for six years creating a pop-rock score that includes the songs “Waving Through a Window” and “You Will Be Found.” “So many of the pieces we admire from other writers probably sounded like a terrible idea at first,” Paul says. “I’m sure when Lin-Manuel Miranda was pitching ‘Hamilton’ a lot of people were like, ‘Oh-kay. That sounds cool to you, but I’m not sure anyone else wants to see it. ”
The topic of teen suicide is surely not mainstream musical box office, but when compared to NEXT TO NORMAL, FUN HOME and SPRING AWAKENING this fast-paced, painful, millennials cyber generation hits your heart. EVAN HANSEN brings the tragic topic home with some amazing pop songs and multimedia background that sweeps you away and keeps the dark topic engaging. That cast is led by the lean, terrific Ben Levi Ross as the awkward teen Evan Hansen and engaging Maggie McKenna as Zoe, Evans crush. They both sing “Requiem” and show off their amazing voices. But Ross brought the opening crowd almost to their feet as he belted the hit song “Waving Through A Window” that opens his story in the show.
Eight characters are the cast and chorus populating a new media words of Facebook, Texts, Instagram and Twitter that portrayes the real world of the teens in the cast. As high school warriors they view themselves through the windows of social media. Evan’s friends are haunted by the peer pressures of generations before them. Evan is recovering from a break down as he sings the amazing show stopper “For Forever”. His mental diagnosis is never discussed but he’s taking medication. Following the advice of his therapist, his single mother, Heidi, played by the accomplished Jessica Phillips, asks him to write a letter of encouragement to himself. The letter he writes is a cry for help and describes his loneliness.
Zoe’s brother Connor played by the gruffy, Marrick Smith, is also a misfit and loner who is in Evan’s senior class. Connor discovers the letter and bullies Evan, who deep down he admires. Connor becomes the true angst of this story as Evan learns from Connor and Zoe’s parents that is distant friend has killed himself. The note Evan wrote is found on his body, and the dead boys parents misinterpret it as a sign of Connor and Evans’s secret friendship. The wisecracking Jared Kleinman is played with the perfect comic timing by Jared Goldsmith, he is the reluctant, f-bomb filled sidekick life advisor for his friend, Evan. “Evan do you wear that cast on your arm from all the jerking off you do?” Goldsmith, Ross and Smith sing the wonderful anthem “Sincerely, Me”. The ghost of Connor sings “Dear Evan Hansen I should tell you I think of you each night, I rub my nipples and start moaning with delight”.
The songs are packed with non-stop hits full of dialogue, and pop melodies that become the highlight of this musical. The compact, on stage band, designed into the multimedia screens on stage, are on top the blue sky and themes of rich blue tones designed by David Korins. The band is clean and fits the pop drama of the music under the direction of Alex Lacoire. Ross’ commanding voice carries this show and all his numbers are show stoppers. Ross’ nerdy, layered, perfect performance as Evan is excellent.
The 20 year old handles the role with precision awkwardness. Evan is on stage over 90% of the time; it is a demanding role so there is an alternate Evan, Stephen Christopher Anthony who performs Wed, Sat matinees and Sun nights. Broadway’s Christiane Noll plays Cynthia, Connor’s mom and sings “Disappear” with Smith, Ross and Lazar as Connor yearns not to be forgotten and the “Connor Project” begins. Evan sings "When you're falling in a forest and there's nobody around, do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?" If a person gains comfort from sharing a story that is based on lies, does it really make the pain easier. Evan's uplifting message following the suicide "no one deserves to fade away”. Today's experience of social media proves that no one will fade away; all those texts, selfies and tweets live in a cloud or server until the earth floods or slips away. Evan finds with Zoe a family bond that he lacks at his home. He develops a strong bond with Connor's dad, Larry, played by the accomplished Aaron Lazar. Ross and Lazar sing “To Break a Glove” as they play catch and Evan warms up to a real father he missed out on.
Evan’s lies and stories become viral thanks to a controlling student, Alana, played by the awesome Phoebe Koyabe. Alana starts an online website dedicated to Connor’s memory. Evan struggles through a memorial video that goes world wide on the net and his lies have become inspirational for other teens. Directed by the Tony winner, Michael Greif, his staging is compelling and the show has made an easy transition in its Tour mode. But I would have loved to see this show in a smaller venue, where I am sure it will keep all its charm and impact as it moves to regional theatre in the years to come. The company number “You Will Be Found” ends the first act and adds the stunning arch to the story. Writer Steven Levenson‘s compelling and surprising book is packed with changing twists just like any teenager brings home. The raw teen characters are imperfect in a way it helps the actors and audience to understand the vulnerability while “Waving Through a Window”. This is the best teenage dialog I have seen in a musical that cast teens to tell the story, it's awkward and real. It would be amazing to make this musical more accessible to youths as the cost of a Tour or Broadway ticket soares there were very few teens in the opening night audience.
The high tech sets by David Korins include the sensitive blue theme lighting by Japhy Weideman compliment themselves. The brilliant blue glow backdrop that ends the two and half hour musical is overwhelming and moving. The constant feed of social media text and imagery as well as the complex dazzling graphic projections were designed by Peter Nigrini. The constant moving stage setting is highlighted with hanging, scrolling projection screens that communicate the interior and exterior wifi babble of a connected social universe. It’s both sleek and mildly mind numbing. The simple polo shirts and millennial costumes designed by Emily Rebholz fit the blue theme and highlight Evan’s real arm cast he wears for each performance. It is sawed off at intermission as Even sings the love inspired “Only Us” with his girlfriend Zoe.
EVAN HANSEN is a generation lost in cyber angst and sometimes a soap opera. Yet it is a deep important show that will bring you to tears. The teens grapple with an information overload, out-of-control, pop density, phenomenon, that raises the question do we die alone. This touring production of DEAR EVAN HANSEN is compelling, my attention never once was distracted and I only wanted more after the cast “Finale”. This run is sold out; singles remain for some of the shows. But the good news is that the Curran is offering a $25.00 lottery for Rush seats. All the details are in the links below. This is a beautiful, painful and deeply human show, the sold out crowd were on their feet even before cast was on stage for the welcomed bows. “You Will Be Found” do your best to catch DEAR EVAN HANSEN, I myself will submit for lottery seats to see this event a second time.
CURRAN THEATRE PRESENTS
DEAR EVAN HANSEN
Book by Steven Levenson
composers Benj Pasek & Justin Paul,
Directed by Michael Greif
Music Direction Alex Lacamoire
Must Close Dec 30th
Two hours and 30 min and one intermission
SOLD OUT but Rush Seats
available two days before each performance
Only at Luckyseats.com
Few single seats remain at https://sfcurran.com/
For more information on the tour, visit dearevanhansen.com/tour/.
Photos by Matthew Murphy
Stage and Film star Jessica Phillips plays 'Heidi Hansen', Tony Award-nomineeChristiane Noll plays 'Cynthia Murphy', and Broadway veteran Aaron Lazar plays 'Larry Murphy.' Marrick Smith and Maggie McKenna round out the Murphy family (as Connor and Zoe, respectively), with Jared Goldsmith as 'Jared Kleinman' and Phoebe Koyabe as 'Alana Beck' completing the on-stage company. Ben Levi Ross stars in the title role.
The cast also includes Stephen Christopher Anthony (as the Evan alternate) along with understudies Ciara Alyse Harris, John Hemphill,Noah Kieserman, Jane Pfitsch, Coleen Sexton and Maria Wirries.
BEN LEVI ROSS sings WAVING THROUGH A WINDOW
DEAR EVAN HANSEN features scenic design by David Korins, projection design by Peter Nigrini, costume design by Emily Rebholz, lighting design by Japhy Weideman, sound design by Nevin Steinberg, and hair design by David Brian Brown. Music supervision, orchestrations and additional arrangements are by Alex Lacamoire. Ben Cohn is the Associate Music Supervisor. Vocal arrangements and additional arrangements are by Justin Paul. Danny Mefford is the choreographer. U.S. Casting by Tara Rubin Casting/Lindsay Levine. Adrienne Campbell-Holt, Sash Bischoff and Adam Quinn are the Associate Directors. Judith Schoenfeld is the Production Supervisor.