‘Dear Evan Hansen’ examines social media, truth, lies

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Matthew Murphy/American Natioal Tour “Dear Evan Hansen”

Kansas City audiences received a surprisingly captivating theatre experience as “Dear Evan Hansen” grabbed them in a choke hold with the first scenes when two introverted, broken adolescents face the challenge of a new school year and a resulting suicide.

Make no mistake, “Dear Evan Hansen” shows the brokenness of eight characters while their lives spiral out of control in a digital age where social media increasingly invades personal space, distorts honesty, changes lives, and accentuates personal struggles.

American Theatre Guild

Backed by fabulous actors with incredible singing voices and a musical score that advances the story, “Dear Evan Hansen” escorts the audience into the not only the pain but also the aspirations of characters and situations. Amazingly, all eight characters grow and change in this two act musical that focuses on adolescents during difficult years. The piece, though, speaks of everyone’s inner-voice, insecurities, pain, and coping mechanisms.

Matthew Murphy/American Natioal Tour “Dear Evan Hansen”

From the opening scenes, audiences sharpened focus on the central characters, see their exterior and quickly discover their hidden weakness demons so thinly veiled to society. Reviling, fresh personalities emoted their pain and ho

ld patrons tightly. The only movement in the auditorium came from a handful of late comers who entered after the holding period of the first act. Other than that, no one on the orchestra level moved a muscle.

The old adage: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” takes on new meaning when a young introverted, shy, broken individual collides with another extremely misunderstood, broken, shattered, angry soul. Their one-time interaction create a poisonous brew, leading one to suicide.

Matthew Murphy/American Natioal Tour “Dear Evan Hansen”

Connor, the explosive, angry, out of control, drug-abusing teen, intercepts a simple note meant for a meeting with Evan’s psychologist. From there, the story shifts to a giant coverup and misinformation campaign to help others deal with tragedy. Good intentions get lost as a white lie encourages more falsehoods, ensnares more broken characters, and spreads like an unchecked cancer. As the lie invades others, their individual pain allows the lie to grow and spread.

Matthew Murphy/American Natioal Tour “Dear Evan Hansen”

While the lie spreads, characters use the fabrication as a salve to cover their pain and personal heartaches. The problem: one lie leads to bigger lies. Bigger lies lead to enormous lies. Enormous lies meet social media, and once noticed on social media, the lie goes viral entraps the victims even more.

Lead character, Evan Hansen (Stephen Christopher Antony) mesmerizes the audience in his opening scene when his fast talking random thoughts get faster and faster as he tries desperately to express his thoughts into a computer. His shyness, his insecurity, his need to connect with others (including his mother) makes him the underdog immediately and wins the audience support and approval. Amazing work from a talented actor. His vocal delivery of the part equals his acting.

Matthew Murphy/American Natioal Tour “Dear Evan Hansen”

His mother (Jessica A. E. Sherman) portrays Evan’s absentee mom, struggling to work, make ends meet, earn a degree, and raise a child cannot heal her own pain or solve immediate problems and also help her son piece his life together. Sherman’s character is sympathetic to those who understand the difficulty of a single parent. Her character comes full circle in Act II when the character grows, changes, and provides the understanding glue to begin cementing fragmented lives together. The performance, though not on stage a lot, provides the hope that makes “Dear Evan Hansen” so powerful. Brilliant voice and acting by Sherman.

The counter-character to Evan Hansen, Connor Murphy (Noah Kieserman) gives the angst to the piece and provides the fodder for lies to spread out of proportion. While his character is outrageously angry, mad, out-of-control, Kieserman gives him a sense of a person experiencing psychological pain and in need of understanding. Kieserman re-appears in Evan Hansen’s mind as the story develops and plays a significant role in the plot. This is a character that deserves more time. The powerful performance by Kieserman gives the character depth and his voice equals the best of the best.

Those three actors stood out, but make no mistake the balance of the cast performs valiantly in supporting roles. Each of the roles shows the anguish of each character and their insecurities and personal pains. All characters search for resolution and comfort. The reality of the story: resolution doesn’t always happen. Life goes on.

Bob Evans | KC Applauds

“Dear Evan Hansen” definitely entertains but targets a younger audience (high school age and up). It’s the formative/awkward years where social acceptance and “in crowd” acceptance or rejection color a person’s life. For shy introverts exclusion dictates their lives. “Dear Evan Hansen” shows the suffering of both parents, friends, siblings and their hidden needs.

The topic of the show sounds somewhat depressing, but audiences cheer for the underdogs. In this show, everyone plays the underdog seeking something different. And the show, definitely not musical comedy, does not play as a dark drama. Patrons stand and cheer for Evan Hansen and thereby cheer for all the characters to find understanding and peace.

“Dear Evan Hansen” encourages viewers to think, act, respond, and most importantly see and listen to others. Beautifully crafted and staged, digital media speaks a new language that has come to the attention of Broadway.

The book by Steven Levenson with music and lyrics by Benj Passck and Justin Paul speaks to a new audience with a timely story that every computer or cell phone owner identifies. Every aspect of the technical crew helps create the on stage illusions that the actors create so masterfully.

Now playing at The Music Hall as part of American Theatre Guild and Sabates Eye Centers’ Broadway Series and with Broadway Across America, the show is amazing. Opening night was a sell out. Do not miss this show. It’s amazing. “Dear Evan Hansen” runs through Oct. 20. Tickets can be purchased through American Theatre Guild’s website. A lottery for each night is conducted for open seats. See website for details.

Tags: “Dear Evan Hansen” review, American Theatre Guild, Broadway Series KC, Broadway Across America KC, Music Hall, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

 

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