By Kamila Daurenova, Contributing Writer
“When you’re falling in a forest, and there’s nobody around / do you ever really crash or even make a sound?”
Outside the untouchable “Hamilton,” you’ll be hard-pressed to find an audience rising for a standing ovation faster than that of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s new original musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” With advance sales reaching $10 million dollars at the start of December, there is no doubt that this reaction is completely deserved, as the tear-jerker may be one of the most important musicals of the decade.
Ben Platt (“Book of Mormon,” “Pitch Perfect”) stars in the title role as a 17-year-old boy that is crippled by his social anxiety and awkwardness. When fellow troubled outcast Connor Murphy (Mike Faist) finds Evan’s letter to himself, Connor keeps it with him when he commits suicide, leading his parents to find and see it as a sign of the boys’ friendship. Evan suddenly has the chance to get everything he ever wanted; dating his dream-girl (and Connor’s sister) Zoe (Laura Dreyfuss), home-cooked meals and attention from the Murphys all become an unforseen boon of popularity when a speech he makes at Connor’s memorial goes viral.
The audience is left rooting for the struggling protagonist despite his questionable choices because of the immense emotional credibility of the show and every character in it. “Waving Through a Window” is the first sucker-punch of a song. It is a heart-wrenching ballad about feeling like an observer in your own life. Witnessing this song feels almost surreal, as if the creative team has taken one’s most isolated feelings and placed them on stage in front of you. Tony nominee Michael Greif’s staging stuns while Platt’s impeccable delivery and falsetto passages stab at the heart. Whoever made it through this song with dry eyes didn’t remain so for long —“You Will Be Found” and “Good for You” follow for an absolutely gutting effect.
Sniffles and sobs aren’t the only thing to expect, though. The insightful songs are broken up with dialogue that is laugh-out loud funny. NYU Steinhardt graduate Will Roland plays Jared Kleinman, a family friend that Evan comes to for advice. The odd threesome of Evan, Jared and Connor break out into the rousing “Sincerely Me” full of chest bumps and awkwardly endearing displays of desperately sought-after friendship. Glee’s Laura Dreyfuss shines in the duet “Only Us,” the most potent example of Pasek and Paul’s singer-songwriter approach to the musical. Social media is as integrated into the show as it is in our lives. Tweets and posts are projected onto semi-transparent curtains that ribbon through David Korins’ otherwise minimal set.
The show ends with a change of scenery. Bedrooms and school corridors are switched out for an outdoor orchard that has become a memorial to Connor. No longer a senior in college, Evan is taking a gap year and working at Pottery Barn to save money for college. The fact that he is still figuring things out makes the ending even more authentic and hopeful; just as in reality, change isn’t instantaneous, but it does come.
The show isn’t just an anthem for those that have struggled to connect with others, but for anyone that has felt like an outsider or had the yearning for a better life. The whole production team deserves endless gratitude for creating a musical that has and will continue to help so many people, strengthening and expanding the bridge between the millennial generation and musical theatre.
Email Kamila Daurenova at firstname.lastname@example.org.