How thrilling it is that Broadway, a place largely turned into a destination to make money not art, is still capable of producing shows that are genuinely bold, daring and confrontational.
With Hamilton and the recent arrival of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, there’s plenty to challenge and provoke already. Dear Evan Hansen adds to New York’s impressive musical slate.
While the show revolves around teenagers, this isn’t High School Musical or Grease, but a very adult musical. The plot concerns a pair of isolated outsiders who become irrevocably bonded after one takes his life and the other is unwittingly implicated in a fabricated, consoling lie told to comfort the grieving parents.
It’s a powerful, intimate, original and redemptive story. It is also bang up-to-date in how it incorporates the pressures of social media to keep the story alive and in people’s guilty consciences.
The musical boasts a darkly textured and deeply nuanced book by Steven Levenson and provocative songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul that are drenched in feeling and fearless commitment. It never sentimentalises its subject, but feels constantly truthful.
As with the same composing team’s Dogfight (produced at Southwark Playhouse in 2014) this show registers its emotions with a frank, fearless ambivalence.
The tone of uncertainty and palpable unease is stunningly projected by Ben Platt, his face regularly damp with sweat and tears, as the title character who ends up doing decidedly the wrong thing by trying to do the right thing.
There are equally impressive performances from the other seven actors in the tight ensemble of Michael Greif’s deeply felt production. It’s another must-see show in a New York theatre scene that is currently full of them.