By Bonnie DeShong
I was invited to the opening night performance of the first national touring production of Dear Evan Hansen. Even though the Broadway production won the 2017 Best Musical Tony Award, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to see and I’m glad I didn’t. I didn’t have any preconceived notions of what I was about to experience. I use the word experience because that is exactly what the audience goes through. We begin laughing at Evan, then we move to laughing with him, and without realizing it we begin understanding and becoming a little bit apart of Evan.
Evan Hansen (Ben Levi Ross) is an awkward teenage boy who has major social issues. He doesn’t fit in anywhere. His father left the family when he was seven and his mom works almost every day of the week to make ends meet, so he spends a lot of time alone. He has one “family friend”, Jared Kleinman (Jared Goldsmith) who only speaks to him so that his family will pay his car insurance. Evan also has a major crush on Zoe Murphy (Maggie McKenna), the popular girl in the jazz band, but he can’t put two words together to speak to her.
Evan’s therapist gives him an assignment to write a letter to himself every day and begin it with Dear Evan Hansen… without giving the experience away, the letter is the catalyst to massive changes in the lives of every person Evan is in contact with.
Steven Levenson’s writing is amazing. Evan’s story and feelings are clear. Michel Greif has taken the book and brought it to life through his direction. The exclamation points are the music and lyrics by Benj Pasek & Justin Paul. Put it all together and give it to actors with beautiful voices and the ability to make their characters real people that you will realize, you know personally or are yourself. I must give credit to Ben Levi Ross who plays Evan. His performance is more than outstanding. He brought Evan and people like him and made them real to those of us who may see an “Evan” everyday and never take the time to acknowledge their existence.
To be honest, at the end of a show I usually stand so I can get out and make it to the lobby before the curtain call ends. After seeing this production, I was one of the first to jump to my feet to give applause to this amazing performance.
Dear Evan Hansen, is funny, emotional, thought provoking, and a show I would love to see again. The four-week tour here at the newly named James M. Nederlander Theatre (was Oriental Theatre) is almost sold out, however, it was just announced that the show will be returning to Chicago July 7 – September 27, 2020.
Until next time keep your EYE to the sky!