"Dear Evan Hansen" introduces us to a new kind of hero, an anxious teenage outsider who unwittingly becomes the voice of reason in the midst of an unspeakable tragedy. It is a story of isolation, loss, honesty ... and dishonesty. Told through song, dance and social media, it's the musical we need right now.
As iconic as Charlie Brown's yellow zig-zag shirt, Evan Hansen's blue striped polo is a symbol for the misfits of the world. His is a character that is instantly relatable: He is a socially awkward high-schooler who wants to fit in and has no idea how to do so.
With a book written by Steven Levenson, and words and music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, "Dear Evan Hansen" is the winner of six Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It has also won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album, and is a New York Times' Critics' Pick.
"Dear Evan Hansen" is playing at the Citizens Bank Opera House, 539 Washington St., Boston, through Aug. 4.
The musical opens with Evan (Ben Levi Ross) on his bed, typing away on his laptop, a scene that should seem all too familiar to any adolescent — or parent. Evan is struggling to write a letter of self-encouragement, an assignment from his therapist. His mother, Heidi (Jessica Phillips), comes in and attempts to give him a pep talk before he goes to school, suggesting to Evan that he might make new friends if he asks people to sign the cast on his left arm. Evan leaves, and Heidi ponders if she is successful as a mother.
On the other side of town, Cynthia Murphy (Christiane Noll) is trying to talk her son, Connor (Marrick Smith), into actually attending the first day of school with his younger sister, Zoe (Maggie McKenna). As the children and her husband, Larry (Aaron Lazar) head out the door, Cynthia also questions if she's making a strong enough effort to connect with her family.
The next scene has Evan unsuccessfully navigating his way through the hallways of his high school, trying and failing to ask for a signature. Alana Beck (Phoebe Koyabe), an enthusiastic overachiever, attempts to make conversation with Evan, who is so flustered he can't get a word in edgewise. Then there's Jared Kleinman (Jared Goldsmith), a wisecracking "family friend" of Evan who isn't ashamed to admit he's only friends with him because his mom told him to. Connor walks in and sees Evan trying to smile. Connor misinterprets the expression as mocking and knocks Evan to the ground, leaving Evan to wonder if he'll ever be included.
I was already in tears at this point. I saw a bit of my former self in Evan Hansen, from his poor communication skills to his fidgety hands. I have since managed my social anxiety, but seeing Evan experience the same struggles I did broke my heart.
At the end of the school day, Evan is seen printing a letter to bring with him to his therapy appointment. However, the letter is far from encouraging: Evan writes that he is tired of trying to fit in and does not want to bother anymore. He asks if anybody will notice if he disappears.
Suddenly, Connor walks in and sees Evan at the computer. He asks Evan what happened to his arm, and laughs at Evan's poor excuse of falling out of a tree. Connor decides to sign the cast, then chuckles and asks, "Now we can pretend we both have friends."
Just then, Evan's letter finishes printing and Connor snatches it up. He furiously accuses Evan of writing the letter as a means of taunting Connor. Before Evan has a chance to explain himself, Connor leaves with the letter in hand, and the entire set flashes to pitch black.
This is as far as my review for this sensational musical will go. I don't want to give too much away and prefer to encourage people to witness the show for themselves.
"Dear Evan Hansen" is truly a game-changer of the musical genre, asking us how far we will go to get what we want. With a cast of only eight and a modern pop-music soundtrack, this musical is guaranteed to leave you speechless.
Tickets are available online at https://boston.broadway.com/shows/dear-evan-hansen/.