January 17, 2022 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

“Dear Evan Hansen” at Ahmanson Theatre

When the National Touring Company of a play that won six Tony Awards last year goes on the road, one invariably wonders if the Los Angeles production will get the same caliber of performances as those presented on Broadway. Please don’t worry as this production of “Dear Evan Hansen,” with book by Tony Award-winner Steven Levenson, 15 songs with music and lyrics by the award-winning team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who won an Oscar for “La La Land,” has travelled exceedingly well. Although you might not walk out of the theatre humming any of the music, each of the songs is relevant to the immediate action and drives the narrative forward. Tying all the complex elements together is the impeccable direction of Michael Greif, four-time Tony Award nominee for his direction in “Rent,” and “Next to Normal”. What’s fascinating about the strong book is if you removed the musical components, it could be a stand-along riveting drama, but that said, the music certainly supports the compelling narrative.

The sometimes-heartbreaking story revolves around 17-year-old Evan Hansen, played to perfection by Ben Levi Ross who was the understudy in the New York production. His portrayal of Evan as an extremely maladjusted teenager who is more comfortable being on his computer than interacting with his classmates. is nothing short of spine-tingling. This amazing young actor has mined the myriad complexities of his character, not only the organic vocal stuttering but imbued his body with all the tics and mannerisms that go with such a neurotic, jittery person. It would have been easy to layer on some of his quirky body gestures but this actor’s physicalization clearly grew out of the deepest recesses of his character’s psyche and one can feel the painful struggle Evan goes through on a daily basis.

Ben Levi Ross as Evan Hansen and Jessica Phillips as his mother Heidi.

The story begins rather innocently. Evan has been assigned by his therapist to write a letter to himself, and he begins it with, “Dear Evan Hansen” and signs it “Me.” In the meantime, one of his classmates, Connor Murphy, well played and sung by Marrick Smith, commits suicide and through a bizarre set of circumstances the letter morphs into Connor’s farewell note and is now in the hands of his grieving parents. Except for one brief encounter, where Connor scribbled his name across Evan’s arm cast, that was the only time they spoke to each other. The dead boy’s “ghost” reappears through the tangled web of deceit and sings “Sincerely, Me” with Evan and Jared. The grieving parents, Larry and Cynthia Murphy, sympathetically played by Aaron Lazar and Christiane Noll, want to know about Evan’s friendship with their son and thus begins a series of well-intentioned tales. They are convinced that their son and Evan were best friends and asked if they had emailed each other and could they see copies. Evan enlists the help of his best friend Jared Kleinman, wonderfully played by Jared Goldsmith, who becomes his partner in creating the non-existent emails between Evan and Connor. From total strangers, Evan is slowly morphing into Connor’s best friend and with the help of Jared, false narratives are created. The parents become very attached to their son’s best friend and soon he has meals at their home and develops a crush on their daughter Zoe, excellently played by Maggie McKenna. Our neurotic fabricator’s awkwardness becomes exceedingly apparent whenever he’s around her. He sings the lovely ballad “If I Could Tell Her.” I should mention that Ross’ voice is powerful and has that magical ability of going from his middle range to almost an octave above without a vocal break. Some of his solos are in their innate sadness.

The myth begins to take on a life of its own and the whole thing has gone viral. Soon, a fan club has formed, with Alana Beck (Phoebe Koyabe) and Evan acting as co-presidents. Buttons, tea shirts, and wristbands with Connor’s image are being sold, a foundation is set up in the dead student’s honor, and a run-down orchard that Evan said he and Connor visited, becomes a cause célèbre to restore and funds are pouring in from all over the country. One lie after another compounds the last lie and soon Evan is swimming in so many lies that he almost forgets what’s real. This fantasy has given him a new family that loves and cares about him, something that is sorely lacking in his life as his mother, well played and sung by Jessica Phillips as his mother Heidi, is absent most of the time, forgetting commitments to her son to the point that she really doesn’t know anything about him, other than he has to take pills to keep his neurosis under control. As Evan’s fake narrative advances, his need for psychotropic drugs disappears. There is one particularly poignant scene where Connor’s dad gives Evan his son’s unused catcher’s mitt and shows him how to break it in. They sing the ballad “To Break in a Glove.” Conner’s parents are now so attached to Evan that they want to give him the money they saved for their son’s college. Evan’s mom is furious and storms out of their home. Eventually she sings “So Big/So Small.” As you might guess, eventually, the lies begin to unravel and what happens will surprise you.

Besides the talented cast of singers and dancers, what is also fascinating about this production are the compelling production values. The theme of a modern-day musical begins with David Korins’ fabulous scenic design but it is Peter Nigrini’s fascinating projections that gives the production such a contemporary look. Hundreds of extraordinary overlapping images of the chatter taking place on social media fill the back wall sometimes illuminating how a lie on social media can impact thousands of lives. The images also project the overwhelming feelings some characters are experiencing. Other members of the team include, Japhy Weideman, (candy-colored lighting design,) Emily Rebholz, (costume design,) Nevin Steinberg (sound design,)* Austin Cook (music director,) Justin Paul (vocal arrangements and additional arrangements,) Ben Cohn (Associate Music Supervisor,) and last, but certainly not least is Alex Lacamoire’s music supervision, orchestrations and additional arrangements, and Danny Mefford’s exciting choreography.

Following the play, my friend and I had an interesting philosophical discussion on the morality and ethics of perpetrating a lie if it results in changing people’s lives in a positive way and galvanizing them into action they might not have taken before. Let me know what you think after seeing the play.

*Definitely not the fault of the designer, but technically the acoustics were a problem – sometimes the orchestra was way too loud making it difficult to hear the lyrics and at other times, the sound system was uneven. Not a new problem at the Ahmanson.

“Dear Evan Hansen”

Ahmanson Theatre
135 N. Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Run: Tuesday – Friday: 8 p.m.
Saturday: 2 p.m. & 8 p.m.
Sunday:  1 p.m. & 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $99- $285
(Ticket prices are subject to change).
(No 8 p.m. performance on Thanksgiving Day, November 22)
Closing: Sunday, November 25, 2018, 1 p.m.
Reservations: (213) 972-4400 or
www.CenterTheatreGroup.org
Groups: (213) 972-7231.
Deaf community: CenterTheatreGroup.org/ACCESS.

Related Posts

“Love Actually Live” – a Holiday Gift to You at the Wallis

December 23, 2021

December 23, 2021

Dazzling.  Remarkable.  Superb.  Thrilling.  Stunning. Spectacular. Glorious. Sparkling.  Sensational.  Glittering.  Mesmerizing.  Astonishing. Brilliant. Vibrant.  Enthralling.  Enchanting.  Riveting.  Fascinating. Innovative. If...

SMC’s “Broken Layers” Wins Best Student Film at The Emerging Filmmaker Showcase During the 2021 Cannes Film Festival

December 3, 2021

December 3, 2021

“Broken Layers”—a short film written and directed by Santa Monica College (SMC) film student Niccolo Rolim—has won “Best Student Film”...

Santa Monica High School Gets New Mural

November 30, 2021

November 30, 2021

A new mural has come to Santa Monica High School thanks to Beautify Earth, an organization that connects local artists...

Getty Acquires 16th-Century Painting Never Seen by Public

November 17, 2021

November 17, 2021

Jacopo Bassano’s The Miracle of the Quails, 1554, has been rarely seen by scholars and never by the public By...

Día de Los Muertos Community Celebration Coming to Third Street Promenade

October 19, 2021

October 19, 2021

Saturday, October 30 from 5 – 10 p.m. By Staff Writer A Día de los Muertos celebration is planned for...

Film Review: Venom: Let There Be Carnage

October 16, 2021

October 16, 2021

Rated PG-13 90 Minutes Released October 1st in Theatres Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a sublimely cathartic experience –...

Closing Celebration for Hispanic Heritage Month Today

October 14, 2021

October 14, 2021

This Friday, October 15, the Santa Monica community is invited to a closing ceremony for Santa Monica’s first Hispanic Heritage...

Sneakertopia Brings the History and Culture of Sneakers to Life

October 12, 2021

October 12, 2021

Sneakertopia is the ultimate expression of art and culture for all things sneakers offering a massive in-person experience paired with...

Review: Ted Lasoo Season 2

September 19, 2021

September 19, 2021

Rated TV-MA 12 30-Minute Episodes Released on Apple TV+, one 30-minute episode each Friday from July 23rd to October 8th...

Santa Monica Partners with McCabe’s Guitar Shop for a Reimagined Annual Concert Series

September 14, 2021

September 14, 2021

Americana in the Park, a New Free Concert Series Launches this September and October By Sam Catanzaro The City of...

Auditions Open for HVS Conservatory’s Inaugural Vocal Program

September 5, 2021

September 5, 2021

Hollywood Vocal Studios and Adreana Gonzalez are proud to announce the founding of Hollywood Vocal Studios (HVS) Conservatory—a post-secondary school...

Final Weekend of Marina Drive-In Movie Summer Series With New Movies Added

August 28, 2021

August 28, 2021

WHERE: Marina del Rey Boat Launch Ramp, 13477 Fiji Way at Parking Lot #2 COST: $20 per vehicle, per movie...