We’ve all found ourselves in that awkward situation when someone asks a simple question and before we can stop ourselves, we’ve replied with an untruth. Usually, these situations are benign, free of consequences, but for Evan Hansen, a little white lie quickly spirals out of control.
Evan Hansen (Ben Levi Ross), the title character of the Tony Award-winning best musical that is currently playing at the Broward Center, is not just any teen. He’s an introverted young man who suffers from anxiety and socialization issues and is being raised by an overworked, divorced mother (Jessica Phillips).
Every day at his suburban high school offers existential challenges as he yearns just to be noticed by his equally hormonal peers. As part of his therapy, Evan’s doctor directs the teen to write reassuring letters to himself.
The school bully, Connor, steals one of those letters, which is discovered on his body after the troubled stoner commits suicide. Connor’s parents (Christiane Noll and Aaron Lazar) mistake the author of the letter as their son and later seek answers from his “secret friend” Evan. That’s where Evan’s little white lie—admitting that he and Connor were indeed friends, best friends—sends everyone, including the audience, on an unforgettable musical journey of self-discovery and reckoning. Evan will eventually have to make a life-changing decision.
Composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“La La Land,” “The Greatest Showman”) penned a dramatic and tuneful pop-infused score that allows the diminutive, gangly Ross to emotionally and musically soar throughout the show, despite his character’s self-imposed inhibitions. Book writer Stephen Levenson unveils both the plot points and Evan’s journey like an onion, with each successive development revealing yet another layer to be peeled away.
While Evan is not gay—the only references inject some needed and innocent comic relief—LGBTaudiences have and will continue to relate to the teen’s predicament. Acceptance does not come easily for most and many LGBT people have experienced the painful isolation that comes with being different. Many others, when put on the spot, may have also found themselves in a similar situation—say, when confronted about their sexual orientation—and been mortified by the responses that left their lips.
But, it is the show’s unconventional “overture” that truly sets the tone for the unique theatrical experience to follow: a carefully-crafted symphony of seemingly random rings, bells and alarms starkly reverberating throughout the auditorium, subliminal and literal at the same time.
Similarly, the minimalist set is framed by a stream of instant messages, emails, videos and social media feeds projected on an array of video monitors, an appropriate context for a show about a generation of young people who rely on smartphones and apps for the simplest of human interactions.
Regardless of generation, audiences enthusiastically responded both to the inspired performances at the Broward Center and the complex underlying messages of the show, likely to resonate long after this production moves to its next venue.
“Dear Evan Hansen” runs through April 7 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets start at $55.25 at BrowardCenter.org.