The irritating beeps and sounds of social media emanate from the stage before the Durham Performing Arts Center’s newest musical, Dear Evan Hansen, begins; and it is that phenomenon of the impact social media has on our lives that threads through the whole story. With amazingly memorable music, a moving and profound storyline, and phenomenal performances, Dear Evan Hansen, which won the 2017 the Tony Awards® for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (Steven Levenson), and Best Original Score Written for the Theatre (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul), might just be one of the most powerful shows to play at DPAC all season.
The story of a boy with social anxiety, dealing with his life among other teens who are also struggling with their own issues, resonates with everyone in the audience. With a shaky voice and a sob in his throat, Evan (played by Ben Levi Ross) introduces himself with “Waving Through a Window,” a powerful song that relates his feelings of inadequacy in a world he finds scary and strange, as do many teenagers.
Ross’ voice ranges from soft whispers to soaring, theater-filling runs, and only becomes stronger as the show progresses. There are times when he floats into a natural falsetto that evokes the character’s age, but it is so effortless that it lends more layers to his character. His performance is stunning, emotional, and worthy of any number of awards.
Connor Murphy (Marrick Smith) is another teen who feels inadequate and ostracized. Connor is a cruel bully, and his only contact with Evan is when they have a violent encounter. The stereotype of the troubled teen who is most likely to be a school shooter, Connor is still someone’s child, still someone’s brother; and when he chooses to end his life, that grief is difficult to bear for his family. But this is just where the story begins — it’s far from the ending.
Though Ben Levi Ross is far and away the shining star in this contemporary tale of learning how to deal with life, the other seven members of the cast are talented as hell. Maggie McKenna, who plays Connor’s sister Zoe (and Evan’s love interest) has an interesting voice that produces shades of Eva Cassidy and Nanci Griffith. McKenna’s natural tones and her tendency to round out her r’s are fragile, yet strong enough to reach the rafters.
And the parental roles in this show are capable of carrying heavy loads of emotional baggage. The characters move from grief to understanding to acceptance, then to confusion, all while building relationships with others who are affected by the same web of lies that Evan begins to weave when he first states he was friends with Connor.
Christiane Noll, a well-rounded stage, television, and live music performer, tenderly molds her character (Cynthia Murphy, Connor’s mother) from an emotionally overwhelmed mother to a woman who has found her own strength through the process. Her husband, Larry, played by Aaron Lazar (who also has a strong theatrical history), follows his own character arc from distracted father to reconnected family man.
Then there’s Evan’s mom, the hardworking nurse’s aide who’s trying so hard to move her family/son into a better life that she’s forgotten what he needs most is her. Jessica Phillips plays Heidi Hansen with the forced gaiety of a parent who’s terrified by the reality that no matter what she does, she’s probably going to do something wrong. The ache in her solo, “So Big/So Small,” had everyone in the theater wiping tears from their eyes.
That said, even though this show requires you to pack a box of tissues, it is not maudlin or dark. Instead, it’s lightened by the presence of teenagers whom we all recognize (either because we were them or because we are parents to someone like them) and love. There’s nothing sadder than a lost life; but somehow, you know that this story reaches down into one of the deepest life truths: with every bad moment, there’s always a good moment.
But in this particular show, there are no sour moments. The music is stupendous, the story is heartbreaking, and the actors are amazing. Go see this show — if you can get tickets. I have a feeling they will be sold out for the rest of the production. Dear Evan Hansen is playing at DPAC through Sunday, March 17th.
SECOND OPINION: March 7th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Glenn McDonald: https://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article227182079.html; and March 6th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://indyweek.com/events/dear-evan-hansen/.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents DEAR EVAN HANSEN at 7:30 p.m. March 12-14, 8 p.m. March 15, 2 and 8 p.m. March 16, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. March 17 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $41 and up, plus taxes and ticket fees. Click here to enter the digital lottery for $25 Rush Tickets.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/where-to-buy.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/369510/2480264.
GROUP RATES (12+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
THE SHOW: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/dear-evan-hansen and https://www.facebook.com/events/2049864891724839/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.youtube.com/dearevanhansenmusical.
STUDY GUIDE: https://dearevanhansen.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/DEHStudyGuide.pdf.
DPAC NEWS RELEASE: https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/dear-evan-hansen-on-sale-nov-1.
THE TOUR: https://dearevanhansen.com/tour, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/dear-evan-hansen-518027, https://www.facebook.com/DearEvanHansenTour, https://twitter.com/DearEvanHansen, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dear_Evan_Hansen#First_National_tour, and https://www.youtube.com/dearevanhansenmusical.
THE TOUR CAST: https://dearevanhansen.com/cast-and-creative/#tour.
THE TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: https://dearevanhansen.com/cast-and-creative/#creative.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, March 16th, performance.
Dear Evan Hansen (2016 Off-Broadway and 2016 musical): https://dearevanhansen.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/6146 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/dear-evan-hansen-508236 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9357050/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/DearEvanHansen/ (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/dearevanhansen (Twitter page), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dear_Evan_Hansen (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/dearevanhansenmusical (YouTube page).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: MMM (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
Benj Pasek (music and lyrics): https://pasekandpaul.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/41589 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/benj-pasek-493228 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2537947/ (Internet Movie Database), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasek_and_Paul (Wikipedia).
Justin Paul (music and lyrics): https://pasekandpaul.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/41590 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/justin-paul-493227 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2524192/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasek_and_Paul (Wikipedia).
Steven Levenson (playwright): http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/42979 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/steven-levenson-497054 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm4697007/ (Internet Movie Database), https://twitter.com/steven_levenson (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Levenson (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.