If you have paid any attention to the musical theater scene during the last few years, two shows probably stand out in your mind—Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen. Amazingly, both of these Tony-Award-winning shows are in San Francisco this winter.
Dear Evan Hansen packs an emotional wallop that will leave you reeling for days afterward. Full of genuine emotion, the tight book and unforgettable songs create one of the most intense and wonderful theater experiences you will ever have.
It is nearly impossible to explain the show without giving away crucial elements of the plot. Personally, I deliberately walked into the show knowing little more than I was likely going to cry at some point.
In general terms, the show tells the story of Evan Hansen, high school student whose crippling self doubt and anxiety lead him into a series of lies that will change his life. The show covers familiar topics such as the quest for identity and belonging in fresh new ways while expertly incorporating elements of our modern life in the digital age. At its core, Dear Evan Hansen is about people, flawed and searching for a place to belong in the modern world.
Dear Evan Hansen is the first musical that really captures the social media age and the extreme loneliness that can result from trying to find yourself in a world of picture-perfect moments. At the same time, social media is not painted as the villain of the piece. It would be easy to blame technology, but the show never stoops to those kinds of simplistic black-and-white answers. Instead, the show is all about nuance. Technology is interspersed throughout the show, just as it is in our everyday lives. But while it’s an integral part of the story, it is not the cause of the action.
Dear Evan Hansen is no stranger to praise. The show won six Tony Awards including Best Musical and a Grammy Award among other accolades. The composer and lyricist duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul can also boast Oscars for their lyrics to the song “City of Stars” from La La Land and wrote the score for the movie-musical The Greatest Showman in addition to their Broadway work.
In the touring production, Ben Levi Ross plays the titular Evan Hansen with a vulnerability that immediately connects with the audience. His voice is fantastic as well, but it’s his physical performance that blew me away. It can be difficult to convey feelings of anxiety and isolation on stage. The way Ross does so is masterful. He breathes life into the character while still making him so relatable to anyone who as ever felt alone.
Playing his mom, Heidi Hansen, is powerhouse Jessica Phillips. Veteran of both stage and screen, Phillips delivers an impressive performance as the overworked, single mother. It’s a delicate line to walk for the character to be relatable and likable despite her many flaws and insecurities. Furthermore, her voice is fantastic, standing out even amongst the impressive cast.
Dear Evan Hansen is a show about now. About every person who has ever felt lonely or left out or insecure—it’s about all of us. Deftly bringing the social media age to the stage, this show feels modern and real in a way that few other musicals have been able to capture. If you only see one show in 2018, make it Dear Evan Hansen.
Dear Evan Hansen is playing December 5 – 30, 2018 at the Curran Theater, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco. The show runs about two-and-a-half hours with one intermission. Tickets start at $25 for rush lottery tickets, more for other seats. Please be aware that this show uses strobe effects.
Photos courtesy of Matthew Murphy