By Claire DeMarco
Teenager Evan Hansen (Anthony Norman) lacks confidence and is insecure. His anxiety and lack of self-worth is greater than the normal angst that many teens feel. Clumsy is also an apt description. Lonely with no friends, the only relationship Evan has is with his laptop.
Heidi Hansen (Coleen Sexton) is Evan’s mom, a single parent who works and attends classes. Her frequent absence from home only heightens Evan’s loneliness and isolation.
Through sessions with his analyst, Evan is encouraged to write daily letters to himself that have a positive outlook on life. This seemingly solo exercise becomes the foundation for a series of events that spiral out of control.
His self-addressed letter accidentally falls into the hands of the school’s bully and suspected drug user Connor Murphy (August Emerson).
When Connor commits suicide several days later, Evan’s letter is found in one of Connor’s pockets.
Connor’s sister Zoe Murphy (Alaina Anderson) thinks her brother was a monster. His parents Larry Murphy (John Hemphill) and Cynthia Murphy (Lili Thomas) always had problems with Connor but surprised at the letter’s contents, they take solace that Connor did, indeed, have a friend. It’s their soothing belief (and his crush on Zoe) that Evan doesn’t have the strength to suggest otherwise.
Note: Even the cast on Evan’s broken arm adds to the ever-growing fairy tale. Connor had printed his name on the cast (in very large letters) since no one else would sign it.
The untruths and embellishments grow exponentially with Evan creating a friendship that never existed.
Fellow classmates Jared Kleinman (Pablo David Laucerica) and Alana Beck (Micaela Lamas) help propel the “story of Connor” to the next level by creating the Connor Project. The Project is meant to keep Connor’s memory alive. It also elevates the socially awkward Evan into a social media sensation.
Norman shines as the insecure Evan. He highlights that persona with his physical movements, facial expressions and eyes always looking downward. His interaction with Sexton as a never-ending talker (talking about nothing) was both hilarious and sad. “Words Fail” and “For Forever” highlight his wonderful singing voice.
Sexton’s demeanor changes from the always apologizing mom, continually working or taking classes to the insulted firebrand rejecting money from Connor’s parents. Her character grows as she becomes the listening, sometimes lecturing mom that Evan needs. Sexton’s rendition of “So Big, So Small” is touching.
Laucerica’s Jared is conniving, smart and at times funny. It’s easy to believe Laucerica as a con man more intent on making money from the Connor Project. As the only other person who knows that the Connor Project and the letter are fake, we see Laucerica advance from a mouthy teenager into a person who has no reservations about making money by perpetuating this fraud.
Lamas plays the girl everyone knows and doesn’t like. She is self-absorbed and she sees this project as a means to elevate herself. Lamas takes her character’s conceit to the highest level. Lamas also has a lovely singing voice.
The entire cast is well-balanced with no weak links.
The set is exceptional with the backdrop a social media participant’s dream. Cascading streams of words, lights flashing, faces smiling and tidbits of partial messages keep moving and changing. The backdrop changes into a background of various snippets of word and phrases when the dialogue dictates.
Don’t miss this exceptional production of the 2017 Tony Winning Musical.
P.S. It’s really me!
“Dear Evan Hansen” runs from May 2 through May 7 at the Benedum, 237 Seventh Street, Pittsburgh, PA. 15222. For more information, click here.