Leaving a new musical with a great song or two running through your head is a rare but exciting thing. Leaving with about 10 great songs running through your head is pretty much unheard of. But that’s the power of Dear Evan Hansen, which just opened on Broadway after a world premiere at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage and a stint at Second Stage Off-Broadway.
It’s not simply that the songs — by Tony nominees Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (2012’s A Christmas Story: The Musical), who also penned lyrics for La La Land — are tuneful. It’s that they have a way of instantly piercing your heart and burrowing into your consciousness, while also illuminating character and propelling the plot (no small achievement!). After becoming entangled in another family’s tragedy, awkward high schooler Evan (an astounding Ben Platt) starts inventing a secret life in the poetic “For Forever.” Fake emails between faux BFFs Evan and Connor (Mike Faist) — created and backdated by Jared (Will Roland), a computer-savvy Cyrano — fuel the bouncy “Sincerely, Me.” When Evan starts coming out of his shell, the cyber community — disembodied voices, accompanied by photos and posts that flash and scroll across David Korins’ sleek screen-filled set — rallies around him in the wrenching, cathartic “You Will Be Found.” His mom (Rachel Bay Jones) reveals her own insecurities in the tender, tear-jerking ballad “So Big/So Small.”
To be clear, our 17-year-old hero gains confidence, a girlfriend, and popularity because of a lie. He’s actively deceiving some very vulnerable people, including the girl he loves (Laura Dreyfuss) and her parents (Michael Park and Jennifer Laura Thompson). Plus, he’s pretty mean to his mom. Still, we root for Evan at every turn. Credit librettist Steven Levenson for creating such a believable young character, from the anxiety meds to the self-deprecating dialogue (Evan must say “sorry” at least a dozen times). It also doesn’t hurt that Platt possesses, on top of a powerhouse voice, a seemingly limitless reserve of charm.
And don’t be surprised if, to one degree or another, you see yourself in Evan. “On the outside always lookin’ in/Will I ever be more than I’ve always been?” he sings in the showstopping “Waving Through a Window.” It’s Evan’s confessional, but it might as well be an anthem for outcasts, loners, and misfits everywhere. Casting directors, get ready: You’re going to be hearing that one a lot.