Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Dear Evan Hansen started its journey to Broadway, where it received the 2017 Tony Award for Best Musical, in Washington with its 2015 debut at Arena Stage. The touring production of the musical by Steven Levenson (book) and Benj Pasek & Justin Paul (music and lyrics) brings it home to the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater, and its themes of isolation and the difficulty of true communication are if anything more relevant following the years of COVID-19.
Evan Hansen (Anthony Norman) is a socially withdrawn high school senior dealing unsuccessfully with his anxiety around other people, to the distress of his mother Heidi (Coleen Sexton). His classmate Connor Murphy (Nikhil Saboo, low-key but menacing) is a stoner and a bully who frustrates his parents (John Hemphill, Lili Thomas) and emotionally abuses his sister Zoe (Alaina Anderson). When a coincidental meeting between the two at school, followed by a tragedy, leads Connor's parents to reach out to Evan, he becomes a center of attention at school and, eventually, on social media.
Norman is fine as Evan, not showcasing his emotions as visibly as he could, but still moving as he is buffeted by events he can't (at first) control. While another classmate, Jared Kleinman (Pablo David Laucerica, drily witty), reluctantly helps Evan create a paper trail of emails to fabricate a friendship between Evan and Connor, he remains skeptical. On the other hand, Alana Beck (Micaela Lamas, a powerhouse presence) spends her time at school trying to get noticed, so Evan is just what she's looking for.
Anderson gives a touching performance as Zoe tries to square Connor's destructive behavior with Evan's more sympathetic portrayal; Hemphill and Thomas are affecting as a couple struggling to keep going in the face of inexplicable loss; Sexton is the heart of the production as a hard-working single mother doing all she can–and sometimes that isn't enough.
Director Michael Greif keeps the energy strong, spurred on by the high-tech assault of the physical production. David Korins' scenic design seems to be in constant motion with sliding panels and furniture appearing and disappearing; Peter Nigrini's projections bombard the audience with the social media images that drive the plot, supported by Nevin Steinberg's intense sound design; Japhy Weideman's lighting design incorporates focused beams and jolts of color; and Emily Rebholz has designed simple but character-defining costumes. The musicians, conducted from the keyboard by Garret Healey, provide a propulsive heartbeat from their elevated platform at the rear of the set.
Dear Evan Hansen runs through September 25, 2022, in the Eisenhower Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call (800) 444-1324 or (202) 467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org. For more information on the tour, please visit dearevanhansen.com/tour/.
Directed by Michael Greif