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Theater Review: “Dear Evan Hansen”

Stephen Christopher Anthony as 'Evan Hansen'
Photo credit:
Matthew Murphy

I had great hopes for six-time Tony-winner “Dear Evan Hansen” when I heard it would finally tour San Diego, but I’m sorry to report that my hopes were mostly dashed last night at San Diego Civic Theatre. But don’t blame the cast.

Evan (wonderfully played – and, most notably, sung – with great pathos by Stephen Christopher Anthony) feels – and pretty much is – alone, both in school and out. Divorced mom Heidi (Jessica E. Sherman) has her hands full just providing for the kid. Being there – physically or emotionally – is a rarity.

School isn’t much help. Evan (who is either on the spectrum or suffering acute social anxiety) talks way too fast and doesn’t get much practice fitting in because the only person who seems to notice him is wiseacre family friend Jared (Alessandro Costantini). Evan wonders if his lot in life is to be outside “Waving Through a Window.”

Mom has noticed, of course, and has Evan visiting a therapist, who has asked Evan to write a letter to himself every day, noting what will be good about that day.

When Evan’s first letter ends up in the hands of school bully Connor Murphy (effectively played with casually implied menace by Noah Kieserman), Evan finds it posted online.

Evan is called into the principal’s office, where Connor’s parents tell him that Connor was found dead by his own hand – and Evan’s letter was found in his pocket. They believe the letter was a suicide note to Evan from Connor. In an effort to ease their pain, Evan will soon find himself in the middle of a huge lie.

The book (by Steven Levenson) gets a bit carried away with the lie, involving a seemingly farfetched movement inspired by fellow student Alana (the fine Samantha Williams) to create a memorial Connor Project, which brings Evan celebrity and makes his reckoning even more difficult.

The score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (who won an Oscar for the score of “La La Land”) gradually cranks up Evan’s loneliness level until he finds himself in a possibly worse place: having to come clean about all the lies. Some of the songs seem to be real winners, though with the blasting onstage band (on the second level) it was difficult to understand many of the words.

But the awfulness of high school is inescapably depicted here, and these fine singing actors do what they can to bring the story to life. The problem for me (as it often is) was the sound in that theater, and the fact that the singers were too often drowned out by the band.

Scenic designer David Korins offers a novel set designed to alert us to the fact that these are kids who not only live, but almost exclusively communicate in an online world. The fragmentation this produces is effectively shown in myriad screenshots with partial flashed sentences (projection design by Peter Nigrini).

Costume, and lighting designs are well handled by Emily Rebholz and Japhy Weideman. Nevin Steinberg handled the sound design.

“Dear Evan Hansen” deals with important issues of isolation and loneliness. I only wish more of the lyrics and dialogue had been intelligible.

The details

“Dear Evan Hansen” plays through January 12, 2020, at San Diego at the Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown.

Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm.