The terrific, emotionally gripping local premiere of Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Steven Levenson’s “Dear Evan Hansen,” the 2018 Tony Award-winning Best Musical, continues through March 13 at the Schuster Center courtesy of Dayton Live’s Premier Health Broadway Series.
This contemporary, social media-centric tale of the titular high schooler coping with anxiety, self-esteem and deceit speaks to anyone who has ever felt they were an outsider. Following the suicide of his classmate, Connor Murphy, Evan ultimately realizes the high cost of betrayal, even when the desire to befriend others is intended for good.
Directed by Tony winner Michael Greif (”Rent”), here are five reasons why you should see this tuneful cautionary tale.
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Stephen Christopher Anthony excels as messy, complicated Evan
In an outstanding performance in which he rarely leaves the stage, Stephen Christopher Anthony brings great charm, powerful angst and excellent vocals to Evan’s complex, neurotic, medicated existence. Tapping into feelings of isolation, loneliness and rejection with great depth in the introductory “Waving Through a Window,” Anthony elevates his portrayal further with a soaring take on the beautifully descriptive “For Forever,” the first moment Evan carves a tricky path in his attempts to comfort the grieving Murphys. By the time Evan finds himself in over his head in “Words Fail,” a confessional gut punch worthy of criminality depending on your perspective, Anthony has created an indelible portrait of impressionable youth. In the end, it’s never too late to be a better person.
The relatable sorrow of a family in pain
John Hemphill (Larry Murphy), understudy Kelsey Venter (Cynthia Murphy), understudy Alaina Anderson (Zoe Murphy) and Nikhil Saboo (Connor Murphy) are well-matched as a family in disarray. From the first moment we see them together, it’s evident the family dynamics are off-track and in need of repair. As the action progresses, Anderson offers lovely vulnerability opposite Anthony, joining him for the sweet duet “Only Us.” The understated Hemphill makes the most of Larry’s brief bond with Evan over baseball in “To Break in a Glove.”
Nikhil Saboo intimidates and delights as rebellious Connor
In a fine example of non-traditional casting, Nikhil Saboo charts a fittingly rebellious course as the troubled, damaged Connor. Saboo’s dark edginess is appropriate for the role, but there’s also an enjoyable layer of mystery underneath. It’s also refreshing to see him loosen up in the comical “Sincerely, Me.”
Jessica E. Sherman’s heartbreaking authenticity as Heidi Hansen
As Heidi, Evan’s mother, Jessica E. Sherman, who originated this role in the Toronto production and won the Toronto Theatre Critics Association Award, delivers a superb rendition of “So Big/So Small,” a tear-jerking recollection of the day Evan’s father moved out when he was 7 years old. Bringing poignancy to the smallest details (notice her humor when recalling Evan admiring a “real live truck” in his driveway), Sherman fashions an incredibly authentic view of a single mother yearning for understanding and forgiveness in order to move forward.
The signature moment: ‘You Will Be Found’
Thanks to Sherman, “So Big/So Small” is a definite master class, but this show remains defined by “You Will Be Found,” the wonderfully inspiring Act 1 finale. Bolstered by Peter Nigrini’s exceptional projection design, Anthony’s stellar rendition (he effectively emphasizes “will”) offers a clear message that we are all connected to each other and must always strive to be a lifeline to those in need.
HOW TO GO
What: “Dear Evan Hansen”
When: Through March 13; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton
Tickets: 937-228-3630 or daytonlive.org
FYI: Masks are required
About the Author