Sunday, February 3, 2019

Another Dear Evan Hansen Update

I’m still completely obsessed.

As I wrote in my original response to seeing Dear Evan Hansen last weekend, I went into the performance blind. Despite hanging out with so many theater queens, I intentionally avoided any spoilers. My blank slate approach amplified an intensely emotional experience. Watching the story unfold in real time with my daughter also enhanced my appreciation of Dear Evan Hansen as a smartly constructed exemplar of theater’s and Broadway’s continuing power. 

After seeing Dear Evan Hansen a week ago, however, I may have overcompensated for my prior embargo on spoilers. I’ve now listened to the original cast album on repeat enough to memorize all the lyrics and chord progressions. I’ve watched bootleg videos on YouTube and compared various casts. I've read numerous reviews and analyses. And I’ve already published three blog posts about the musical.   

I haven’t stalked anybody yet. But yesterday my friend and fellow Broadway obsessive Dr. Ken sent me the following Instagram picture. It shows the two actors who played Evan Hansen in New York and on tour this year. Apparently they’re now dating, and too adorable for words.

Other than Dr. Ken's sleuthing, so far the most interesting thing I’ve discovered in my post-play Dear Evan Hansen research is an eerily similar response from another critic.

Over the last few years The New York Times has published numerous articles about Dear Evan Hansen, from the play’s workshop and off-Broadway beginnings, up to the current national phenomenon. Ben Platt, the dorky actor you sorta remember from Pitch Perfect, originated the role of Evan. That's him you hear on the original cast album. And in your head.

A year ago, the Times’ junior theater critic Jesse Green got the assignment of re-reviewing the Broadway production after Platt’s departure. Under the headline “ ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ has a New Evan, and a New Balance,” here's how Green begins:

Everything is the same. And everything is different.

And then again, everything is the same.

Yes, “Dear Evan Hansen,” which officially introduced Taylor Trensch as its new Evan on Thursday, is still a gut-punching, breathtaking knockout of a musical. But it is differently gut-punching and breathtaking now than it was during the year that Ben Platt led the cast.  …  With Mr. Trensch’s Evan less dominating, the weight of the story is more evenly distributed among its eight characters. 

Green’s observations make sense. However, it was the critic's very personal conclusion that resonated most with me. In fact, Green's ultimate response to Dear Evan Hansen parallels my own recent blog essay about how parenthood is at the center of the play:

When Evan tries to comfort the family of Connor, a schoolmate who has committed suicide, their need for information gets tangled with his need to be noticed and a moral nightmare ensues. Also a practical nightmare, as the lies he tells, amplified by social media, return to haunt him. These are big issues…. 

Ill-considered though it may be, Evan’s attempt to fill the void left behind by Connor, and the void in his own heart, feels affectingly truthful. Even so, and despite the intensity of interest in the title role, “Dear Evan Hansen” remains — for this father, anyway — most moving as the story of two mothers. Connor’s (Jennifer Laura Thompson) is naturally crushed by the death of her son. Evan’s (Rachel Bay Jones) tirelessly enacts the role of cheerleader-in-chief for her lonely, awkward boy. But both are also dealing with something I suspect every parent in the audience understands: their terrifying responsibility for the happiness of their children, coupled with their marginal ability to do anything about it. When Ms. Jones sang the song “So Big/So Small” near the end of the show on Tuesday, there wasn’t a dry eye in my face.

Years ago, I gave up my pursuit of a literature PhD because I was worried there were no jobs out there, and nothing left for anyone to say. 

Both conclusions remain true, more or less. Indeed, my pessimism was further confirmed this week as I binged on repetitive Dear Evan Hansen criticism at the same time as I unsuccessfully applied for more jobs.  

Fortunately, I’ve finally faced my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorderwriter’s block, and codependency. Now nothing stops me from writing. More or less.

More responses to Dear Evan Hansen:

   "Dear Evan Hansen" (1/29/19)
   "The Shelf Life of Metaphor" (1/31/19)
   "Three Evan Hansens" (2/19/19)
   "Confabulation" (2/27/20)

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