REVIEW: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ raises bar for other musicals


Courtesy Broadway In Chicago

REVIEW: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ raises bar for other musicals

By Molly Walsh

There isn’t aneasy way to review a show that picks at your brain the way “Dear Evan Hansen” does. Between the score and the script, a 500-word article does not quite do the six-time Tony-winning musical justice. 

The show tells the story of misfit Evan Hansen as he navigates high school after mistakenly being identified as the best friend of Connor Murphy, played by Marrick Smith, the misunderstood upperclassman who takes his own life. 

With a busy single mother, mean classmates and extreme anxiety, Evan Hansen starts to gain some much-needed attention from the people around him as he is seen as the only person who got to know Connor. Some of those people include Connor’s family, such as his empathetic sister Zoe, played by Maggie McKenna.

“Dear Evan Hansen” started its limited engagement in Chicago Feb. 13 in front of a sold-out audience at the James M. Nederlander Theatre formerly known as the Oriental Theatre, located at 24 W. Randolph St.

Ben Levi Ross gave a stunning performance as Evan Hansen. He was a vocal powerhouse who had the crowd hollering after the second number, “Waving Through a Window,” where he poured his heart out with lyrics like, “When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around, do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?” 

Ross also has an incredible acting range. He goes from a timid, apologetic character in the first act to an exasperated, angry person who finally expresses his anxieties to his mom Heidi, played by Jessica Phillips. Phillips’ character was underrated. She gave a  powerful performance, showing the battle-like juxtaposition between the stress of  having to provide fiscal support for Evan, as well as emotional support

This musical is different from others because of its present-day setting that is well represented by the simple stage design. The band is on stage right, partially hidden by banners hung from the ceiling with flashing screens of the timelines of Evan’s friends’ Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Although creative, I found these banners to be distracting because I was constantly caught up in trying to read the different social media posts. Even though I was distracted some moments, the setting was efficient because it was used to display and surround Evan with the letters he wrote to himself as a coping mechanism. 

In its entirety, the show was entertaining, thought-provoking and, at some points, agonizing. The music, lyrics, script and choreography tell the narrative of a young person experiencing declining mental health. The story also sheds light on the other battle that comes with mental health: admitting there is a battle in the first place.

“Dear Evan Hansen” runs through March 10 and should be seen by as many people as possible. It showcases an incredibly talented cast and sends a message of hope for those who need it.