Aired on KSDS-FM on 1/10/20
RUN DATES: 12/31/19 – 1/12/20
VENUE: Civic Theatre
Although the internet has always encouraged self-invention, when “Dear Evan Hansen” was birthed in 2015, we did not yet live with a perpetual tsunami of lies and social media distortion.
Since the musical won six Tony Awards in 2017, its story of one depressed, anxious teenage misfit has become emblematic of a generation, and perhaps the country.
The show was inspired by the real-life school experiences of multi-award-winning composer and lyricist Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
The title character is a nerdy, twitchy, spectrum-y high school loner who craves connection, but has no friends and a never-home, hard-working single mother.
A daily inspirational note Evan writes to himself is grabbed by the disturbed school bully, Connor, and later found in Connor’s pocket after his suicide. This sparks a cascade of fabrications and coverups that provide Evan with popularity, a long-coveted girlfriend and a family that needs a son as much as he needs a father and a stay-at-home mom.
In the national touring production, the excellent lighting and projections perfectly capture the cacophony of social media. What should serve as a national example is the taking of responsibility and admitting to the dystopian web of lies.
With its compelling score and attention-grabbing story by Steven Levenson, the musical is small-scale — just eight performers and eight musicians — far too intimate for the 3000-seat Civic Theatre, which has an unequivocal distancing effect.
Although most of the ensemble has prior experience with the show, this does not feel like a first-string cast; it’s far less effective than the national company that played Orange County last year.
There’s too much yelling and overbearing belting, and the broken Bad Boy, Connor, has lost his edge and sense of danger.
But as Evan, Stephen Christopher Anthony, who understudied the role on Broadway, is thoroughly convincing.
The show has two San Diego connections: director Michael Greif, former La Jolla Playhouse artistic director; and Kelsey Venter, the dance captain and understudy for both moms, a San Diego native who cut her musical theater teeth on local stages.
“Dear Evan Hansen” speaks to the outsider in all of us, and offers a message of accepting and just being yourself — a lesson everyone could learn.
©2019 PAT LAUNER/Patté Productions, Inc.