“Dear Evan Hansen” a Dynamic Troubling Night at the Theatre

“Dear Evan Hansen”, currently in residence at  Proctors Theatre in Schenectady is disturbing, thought-provoking, depressing, problematic, and totally engrossing. The story of a very troubled teenager who is writing letters to himself per the instructions of his psychiatrist that begin Dear Evan Hansen and are signed Me. The letter was never meant to be seen, yet the high school bully and drug addict, Connor Murphy finds the letter on a computer lab printer, takes it, and taunts Evan with the fact that he has it. When Connor commits suicide, the letter is found with him. His parents, who always rightfully thought that Connor had no friends, assume that he was writing the letter to his best friend Evan. Evan who has a myriad of issues of his own perpetrates the lie, adds fuel to the fire, and goes from being a neurotic, socially awkward loner to being the center of the school and an internet sensation.

The show is loosely based on lyricist Benj Pasek’s life experience after a high school classmate died of a drug overdose, watched as classmates fabricated stories of being part of the deceased student’s life. The biggest problem with this show is that while it attempts to tackle the very real contemporary issues of teen depression, drug abuse, anxiety, alienation, and suicide, to name a few, truly ends up just being depressing.

On the positive side, the show is riveting in its production. The black set, illuminated by amazing computer graphics, as if we are watching and eventually become enveloped into a giant computer screen becomes another character in the play. Peter Nigrini’s projection design often overtakes the show, becoming a character unto itself. A piece of contemporary theater at its finest. Japhy Weideman’s lighting design underscores and works in tandem with the projection design; rarely in recent memory has the lighting been such an important impactful part of the production.

Saving the best for last, in this case, the music and the performers. The cast does a stellar job. The production we saw had understudy Matthew Edward Kemp step into the role of Evan Hansen. The emotional output he leaves on the stage is overwhelming. From the most nuanced hand movements to his soaring tenor voice, Kemp gives a heartbreaking powerhouse of a performance. He is surrounded by an equal amount of talent: Alessandro Costantini as Jared, Evan’s friend because their families are friends, has expert comic timing, and strong controlled dramatic timber. John Hemphill, Claire Rankin, and Stephanie LaRochelle, as Connor Murphy’s father, mother, and sister and understudy Coleen Sexton as Evan’s somewhat lost single mother struggling to make a better life by bettering herself, all have their moments to shine and do it with style and enormous amounts of talent. Music Director Garret Healey leads the nine-piece orchestra with a deftness of hand.

Much of the music has become part of the standards of the contemporary American Theatrical Songbook. “Anybody Have A Map”, “Waving Through a Window”, “Disappear” and the show’s anthem “You Will Be Found” leave you on the edge of your seat. So tightly woven into the fabric of the show itself the songs propel the plot forward. 

 “Dear Evan Hansen” book by Steven Levenson and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, does have all of the ingredients that a smash show should provide: a great score, memorable music, an intriguing storyline, wonderful set and lighting, and a cast that can carry the entire production across the finish line with an enormous amount of talent.   For all of its splendor and talent that “Dear Evan Hansen” packages into two and a half hours, you still leave sadly unsatisfied. Perhaps disillusioned with life, the teenage world, or just generally depressed, Evan Hansen does deliver, I am just not certain I want to be there to receive the package.

“Dear Evan Hansen” runs through Sunday, March 27.

For more information: www.proctors.org  or call 518-346-6204.

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