You will be found
The musical “Dear Evan Hansen” won big at this year’s Tony Awards, taking home six of the coveted statuettes: best orchestrations (Alex Lacamoire), best score (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, already Oscar winners for best song for “City of Stars,” their contribution to “La La Land”), best book of a Musical (Steven Levenson), best featured actress in a musical (Rachel Bay Jones), best actor in a musical (Ben Platt), and best musical. Since I had a strong feeling that this would happen, I made sure to watch the show on my last visit to New York.
The show opens with Evan Hansen (the excellent Colton Ryan, standing in for Platt who was on mandated vocal rest) sitting on his bed, his laptop’s screen casting a glow on his face. His arm is in a cast, broken from a fall out of a tree in summer. The moment the show begins, the teenage shrieks began, almost as if on cue. He starts writing a letter to himself, an assignment from his therapist. His mother Heidi, a nurse aide and paralegal student (Rachel Bay Jones), comes in, helping to psych him up for his first day as a senior in high school. This is when we find out that Evan has a host of things stacked against him: he has zero friends (the only one that even remotely resembles one is one Jared Kleinman, played by Will Roland), severe social anxiety disorder, and a huge longtime crush on Zoe Murphy (Laura Dreyfuss). Not even a few minutes through the school’s front door, and already he’s pushed to the ground by Zoe’s brother Connor (Tony nominee Mike Faist) and is encountered in the hall by Alana Beck (Kristolyn Lloyd), the school’s resident overachiever. Evan asks Jared and Alana to sign his cast; neither of them does. In the computer lab, Evan prints out his letter to himself, a more truthful and less encouraging assessment of his current situation. Here he encounters Connor again, who signs his cast in large letters in order for them both to pretend they actually have friends. Connor spots the printed letter and storms out with it upon seeing his sister’s name mentioned therein.
Days pass, and we learn that Connor has committed suicide, sending the Murphy parents, Cynthia and Larry (Jennifer Laura Thompson and Michael Park), into depression. They ask Evan to come for a visit, because of the letter found on Connor’s body, thinking it’s a suicide note from their son to Evan.
We see Evan’s relationship with Heidi, a single mother trying to keep a million plates spinning at the same time. We see the Murphys, a family on the verge of falling apart. We see Zoe, a young woman terrorized by her older brother. We see so many lonely, misunderstood, isolated people. We also see social media, and its effect and influence on these teenagers’ lives.
The rousing end of the first act is “You Will Be Found,” Evan’s speech to the school in tribute to Connor, which then immediately goes viral, in the way viral videos do. It is an anthem for anyone who’s ever felt pushed aside to the margins, alone and without comfort. And it ends with Evan and Zoe starting something beautiful.
The entire cast is excellent from top to bottom, but I must make special mention of Colton Ryan as Evan Hansen. Being a standby for such a huge and popular character can’t be easy, but Ryan makes it seem effortless. His portrayal is complete—both vocally, physically and emotionally. It was hard to believe that he’s making his Broadway debut straight out of college (he began the run before graduation, earning internship credits with his time in “Dear Evan Hansen”). Audiences should not be disappointed when Ben Platt happens to be out, as they’ll get a wonderful treat in watching Ryan step in.
The show is a treat for the eyes and ears (despite the size of the cast, the sound is full and complete), well-sung and brilliantly designed and directed. I would highly recommend this show to any teenager and their parents to see, if only for the teens to get insight into what their folks must go through, and for parents to see what their kids experience. And the truth of the matter is, neither side has all the answers all of the time, high school and parenthood can be hostile territories, and that there is relief and comfort that can be found. That no one is really ever alone.
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