Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Dear Evan Hansen
Scenic designer David Korins and production designer Peter Nigrini provide many a nifty setting as the play turns and twists here and there. The first is Evan's bedroom in his house in some town in contemporary America. He's a high school senior whose therapist has suggested he write letters to himself to relieve anxiety. Evan's laptop is his companion, and his words are projected above him, from time to time. Emails assist the plot.
Actress Jessica E. Sherman plays his single mother Heidi, who is often working away from home even as she cares deeply for Evan (Stephen Christopher Anthony). The Murphy family is also part of the community. Cynthia (Claire Rankin) and Larry (John Hemphill) are parents with money, who pretty much despise one another. Their son Connor (Nikhil Saboo) is personified as a kind of long-haired school bully although he doesn't seem absolutely menacing.
Without spoiling the entire plot line, let's say it's important to know that Evan has a massive crush on Zoe Murphy (Stephanie La Rochelle), who is Connor's sister. After Connor takes his life and the story accelerates, Evan, through his continuous writing, tells a lie which gives birth to another and so forth. Before the first act concludes, many are convinced that Evan and Connor were splendid friends and that Evan, with others, will work to forever keep Connor's memory a living one.
Steven Levenson's excellent book for Dear Evan Hansen navigates from predictable to truly moving, while music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are proactive. For example, the first number, "Anybody Have a Map?," brings together the two mothers, each of whom suffers disconnect with a son. Through songs such as "Waving Through a Window" and "For Forever" during the first act, actor Anthony demonstrates a sweet tenor that lifts to falsetto. He and La Rochelle (she is always on pitch) are impressive with "If I Could Tell Her," the title of which reveals Evan's hope.
Before intermission, the audience watches an Evan who is, yes, neurotic, nerdy, lusting for a girl, and confused. All of that is far from stunning. Many a high school boy is seemingly beset by nerves, hormones and more. Evan has one male friend, Jared Kleinman (Alessandro Costantini), who provides instantaneous comic relief throughout. Alana Beck (Ciara Alyse Harris), a girl who knows Evan and helps facilitate "The Connor Project," rounds out the cast.
The second act yields to much higher, captivating drama. Tone shifts and the atmosphere is far more troubling (further revelations would destroy the element of surprise for future theatergoers). Highlight songs include "Only Us," which features Zoe and Evan, and Evan's plaintive "Words Fail."
This tour showcases cast members who bring performances that are rich in emotion and detail. Stephen Christopher Anthony understudied Evan on Broadway. Stephanie La Rochelle and Claire Rankin appeared in a Canadian production of Dear Evan Hansen, while Jessica E. Sherman played Heidi in Toronto.
Director Michael Greif and choreographer Danny Mefford deserve more than a few affirmative nods. The production moves swiftly yet pauses for specific moments when necessary. The characters move around and about beneath the many projected sentences and fragments above them. Everything gracefully fits together and performers demonstrate that they've been well rehearsed.
It should be said that if one is fortunate enough to snag a seat relatively near the stage, that's a plus. The view affords the opportunity to perceive actors bearing authentic feeling on their faces. The close look further heightens an evolving theater experience that is both incisive and acute.
Dear Evan Hansenruns through April 3, 2022, at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford CT. For tickets and information, call 860-987-5900 or visit bushnell.org. For more information on the tour, visit https://dearevanhansen.com.