Emotional new musical will make you laugh and cry

First slide
First slide
First slide
Previous Next

Arena Stage in Washington beautifully presents an exceptional production about what it is like to be a teenager with mental health issues, in a new musical, tackling depression, anxiety and suicide.

"Dear Evan Hansen" is a modern, untraditional drama providing a real life lesson about the effect of our actions on family and friends, while exploring how online communication often further complicates daily life.

A heartbreaking, relatable and, at times, funny tale directed by three-time Tony Award nominee Michael Greif, "Dear Evan Hansen" stars eight phenomenal actors including Ben Platt of "Pitch Perfect" and Laura Dreyfuss of "Glee."

Evan Hansen, played by Platt, is a 17-year-old protagonist suffering from a severe anxiety disorder, that causes him to feel more comfortable in his bedroom than out in the world. In the hope of improving his lonely life, Evan is instructed by his therapist to write a series of hopeful letters to himself, titled "Dear Evan Hansen." Evan writes one, in which he reveals his deep inner sadness and his hope that his friend, Zoe Murphy (Dreyfuss), can help him.

Zoe's parents' eventually find the letter following the tragic suicide of their son, Connor, and they assume it was written by him. Instead of telling the truth, Evan decides to escape from reality and form relationships with Zoe and her grieving parents, played by Michael Park and Jennifer Laura Thompson. His lies are revealed and he now must tell the truth.

Lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul were inspired for this musical while in college by real events from Pasek's high school years. Pasek saw that when tragedy strikes, everyone wants to make a change. With songs like "Waving Through a Window," "Disappear" and "So Big/So Small," the vocals of this strong and talented cast prove the work of Pasek and Paul a success.

The musical's creative team brings technology to life in the set designed by David Korins. By projecting social media sites onto moving backdrops, they create a sense of what it's like to be surrounded by screens and technology - a problem that several characters struggle with.

Pope Francis recently sent the same message - technology as tyranny - in his encyclical "Laudato Si'." With the amount of technology that surrounds us, the pope warned about the distractions that screens can have on our lives. If we were to slow down, we might see the bigger picture of life, and that is the people around us.

With such a raw and powerful message, "Dear Evan Hansen" should go to Broadway, to reach more audiences and make the social change that its authors set out to do. Although it is not a traditional Broadway musical - where you walk out wanting to be a cat or fall in love with a beast- audience members will leave with a sense of hope, a sense that this play touched someone in the audience struggling with similar issues.

Since the musical covers a heavy topic some of the content might not be suitable for children under 13. There is some crude humor and colorful language.

Some may cry, but most probably will laugh during this production. Pasek and Paul, along with the help of author Steven Levenson, balance the emotional side of the story with comedy. Expect to leave awe-struck by the story of a very awkward, yet relatable, young man, Evan Hansen.

Raynor can be reached at lraynor@catholicherald.com

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015