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A CurtainUp D Review
Dear Evan Hansen
"I wish that everything was different. I wish that I was part of ... something. I wish that anything I said ... mattered, to anyone. I mean, face it: would anybody even notice if I disappeared tomorrow?" "" — Evan
Evan Hansen
Laura Dreyfuss and Ben Platt (Photo by Marcia Schulman)
It is hard to tell the difference between teenage angst and mental illness in Dear Evan Hansen, a new musical by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Steven Levenson, now playing at Arena Stage in Washington, DC.

Evan Hansen's life has not been idyllic: his father left when he was seven. His well-meaning mother Heidi (sweetly played and sung by Rachel Bay Jones) tries to hold everything together while working as a nurse and studying to be a lawyer. She's hardly ever home, although she'd like to be, but money is tight so she takes whatever extra shifts come her way.

Evan (Ben Platt of Pitch Perfect fame in an enormously sensitive performance with just the right amount of teen mannerisms) is anti-social to the point where you wonder whether he has Asperger's. His view of the tiny, insulated world he lives in is very negative. He's depressed, takes pills and has a therapist who advises him to write letters to himself beginning with "Today is going to be an amazing day, and here's why." (Question: who ever heard of a teenager writing a letter to anyone?)

At school, Evan runs into his senior year classmate Connor, a disaffected youth from a wealthy but disfunctional family hard-pressed to acknowledge the truth. Connor's anger is directed inward with drastic results that lead to the unraveling of many lives. With dirty hair and a sloppy, wtf attitude, Mike Faist, in an excellent performance, makes Connor, whether he's alive or a spectre in Evan's subconscious, hauntingly pervasive. Sliding over Connor's back story, however, leads to more questions than answers.

There are three more high schoolers in this bittersweet story: Connor's sister Zoe, well performed and sung beautifully by Laura Dreyfuss; Alexis Molnar (who looks like a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg) gives just the right amount of edge to opportunist and pain in the ass Alana Beck; and Will Roland who, as the advisor and entrepreneur Jared Kleinman, has the good fortune to deliver some of book writer Steven Levenson's funniest lines.

About the plot: it helps to suspend the disbelief that sullen, anti-social teenagers can change quickly. Surely that's a process requiring time-released hormonal adjustments. It is hard to accept that a long-admired- from-afar girl can change Evan's outlook on life so rapidly or that Connor's teenage disequilibrium leads him to do what he does. Coming through loud and clear, however, is the fact that what starts as deceit can be blown totally out of proportion by the Internet where lies are disseminated with lightening speed leaving plenty of victims in their wake.

It's not all gloom for Evan. He faces up to his mistakes and tries to make amends. Ben Platt, a fine young actor who sings well, appears authentically moved by his character. There were sniffles in the audience as his truth was revealed.

The onstage nine-piece orchestra plays well —not too loudly to drown out the lyrics. The music is pleasant, not terribly original but good enough to get toes tapping. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's ballads stand out, particularly Heidi's "So Big, So Small," Evan's "Words Fail" and Zoe and Evan's young sweethearts duet "Only Us." David Korins's set includes micro-scenes of domestic life at the homes of Evan and of Connor and in the background panels on to which Peter Nigrini's projections land. They add nothing to the ambience; in fact, they are distracting. Less would be more. This show is about human failures and the emotions they evoke.

Dear Evan Hansen
Book by Steven Levenson
Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Choreography by Danny Mefford
Directed by Michael Greif
Music Supervision and Orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire and Christopher Jahnke
Music Directed by Ben Cohn
Set Design by David Korins
Costume Design by Emily Rebholz
Lighting Design by Japhy Weideman
Sound Design by Clive Goodwin
Projection Design by Peter Nigrini

Cast: Ben Platt (Evan Hansen); Will Roland (Jared Kleinman); Rachel Bay Jones (Heidi Hansen); Jennifer Laura Thompson (Cynthia Murphy); Mike Faist (Connor Murphy); Laura Dreyfuss (Zoe Murphy); Michael Park (Larry Murphy); Alexis Molnar (Alana Beck).

Musicians: Ben Cohn (Musical Director/Keyboard); Jeff Thurston (Violin); Jennifer Ries (Viola); Deb Brudvig (cello); Adrien Godat and Phillip Noss (guitars); Dave Marsh (Bass); Giancarlo de Trizio (drums and keyboard).

Run time: Approximately 2 hours and 35 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth Street, SW; Washington, DC;; 202-488-3300. July 10 to August 23, 2015. Tickets $40 to $90.

Reviewed by Susan Davidson, July 30, 2015 performance.
Musical Numbers
Act One
    This'll Be the Year (Company)
    Waving Through a Window (Evan)
    For Forever (Evan)
    Sincerely, Me (Connor, Evan, Jared)
    Requiem (Zoe, Cynthia, Larry)
    If I Could Tell Her (Evan, Zoe)
    Disappear (Connor, Evan, Alana, Larry, Cynthia, Zoe)
    Part of Me (Company)
Act Two
    Sincerely, Me (Reprise) (Connor, Jared)

    The Right Way (Larry, Evan)
    Only Us (Zoe, Evan)
    Good for You (Heidi, Alana, Jared, Evan, Connor)
    Part of Me (Reprise) (Alana, Jared, Connor)
    Words Fail (Evan)
    So Big/So Small (Heidi)
    Finale (Company)
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