You'd think the death by suicide of a lonely teen would be a total downer. In Dear Evan Hansen, the play that opened at Broadway's Music Box Theater on Sunday night after an ecstatic off Broadway run, we meet the troubled boy, Connor (Mike Faist), early on. He's a bully and picks on the play's protagonist before the tragic deed, and the rest of this exuberant, fresh, musical is about how, in the age of the Internet, something big is made of something so unknowable and private as this young man's demise. Ben Platt plays Evan Hansen. An actor of mega talent who made a huge impression in the Pitch Perfect movies, Platt has many fans who clapped hard the minute he took stage, in his bed writing a letter of affirmation to himself: "Dear Evan Hansen," it starts.
No surprise: the play's artistic collaborators Benj Pasek & Justin Paul who wrote the music and lyrics, Steven Levenson who supplied the book, and director Michael Grief, saw the story unfolding as if it were populated by characters in an indie movie. On a spare stage changing constantly with projections on moving scrims, you think every moment is like a posting on Facebook or Instagram. Social media is a character in itself but that doesn't mean the characters including Laura Dreyfuss as Connor's sister, Rachel Bay Jones as Evan's mom, and Michael Park and Jennifer Laura Thompson as Connor's grieving parents, are somehow diminished. The play gives a clear image of how humans can occupy center stage, even in a fast changing and not altogether truth speaking virtual world.
Though dead, Connor comes back in a rousing belly smacking dance with Evan and his fake email forging friend Jared (Will Roland in "Sincerely, Me," but the number that everyone will be humming is the show's anthem, "You Will Be Found." When the crowded images disappear at an apple orchard that has become a memorial to the dead boy, the peaceful vision inspires hope, especially for the vibrant genre of musicals.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.