APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – In spite of its title, “Dear Evan Hansen” is about someone else AND the fast-talking, mannerism-laden teenage Evan Hansen.
The someone else is Connor Murphy, the school bully/druggy who is 100 percent despised until he takes his life and Evan allows him to mistakenly appear to have been Mr. Nice Guy.
The fascination that classmates embrace with the Connor/Evan “bond” is akin to the success of “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway that’s now enveloping Fox Cities Performing Arts Center with near-sellout houses for its eight-performance stand.
The story also is something about the wildfire that social media can create. Word-of-Internet = a mystique of power.
Not many Broadway shows have straight-on appeal for a young audience and their family.
Experiencing “Dear Evan Hansen” could even be therapeutic.
The show contains an extremely elaborate story of extremely elaborate lying and super-sensitive situations presented in super-technical staging ways with songs driving thoughts and emotions in the way only musical theater can do – better in ways than a movie.
The cast is smallish and potent.
Stephen Christopher Anthony stars in this production as Evan Hansen. He impresses with his full-on depiction: Lines delivered at warp speed, high notes and emotion galore in songs and a kaleidoscope of sort in physicality – the touching of palms to face, wiping the nose with the back of the hand, the hand-arm gestures of emphasis, hands to the eyes… more or less constant. With precision, Stephen Christopher Anthony portrays an egg shell personality suddenly becoming a voice.
The staging is as intricate as the story and song-making. The “backdrop” is an array of motion with a multitude of projected images flashing at nano-second speed all over. Set pieces move by hydraulics – a bedroom goes, and a dining room table arrives with four people seated and arguing. Lighting effects are spot-on, as with a touching of a hand to a shoulder in a climactic scene at just the right time in just the right place for just the right impact.
Toughness fills situations, and some language bombs are dropped, as are blunt references to sexuality. Some of the show’s hard edge loosens to nice in the second act.
COVID-19 restrictions have been eased in the house, though they are there subtly. My guess it is no accident that action takes place in the proscenium stage area at least 30 feet from the first row of the audience.
Much about the production and the special social dynamics of the story are in a 34-page study guide on the PAC’s website. More about that is here: https://www.wearegreenbay.com/critic-at-large/dear-evan-hansen-themes-get-special-attention/.
Altogether, “Dear Evan Hansen” is a phenomenon of sorts.
Running time: Two hours, 45 minutes
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. April 20-22, 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 23 and 1 and 6:30 p.m. April 24
Creative: Book – Steven Levenson; music and lyrics – Benj Pasek and Justin Paul; director – Michael Greif; choreography – Danny Mefford; musical supervision, orchestrations and additional arrangements – Alex Lacamoire; scenic design – David Korins; projection design – Peter Nigrini; costume design – Emily Rebholz; lighting design – Japhy Weideman; sound design – Nevin Steinberg; hair design – David Brian Brown; music director – Ben Cohn; music coordinators – Michael Keller, Michael Aarons; vocal and additional arrangements – Justin Paul
Cast (in alphabetical order, Tuesday, April 19):
Evan Hansen – Stephen Christopher Anthony (Saturday matinee, Sunday evening: Sam Primack)
Jared Kleinman – Alessandro Costantini
Alana Beck – Ciara Alyse Harris
Larry Murphy – John Hemphill
Zoe Murphy – Stephanie La Rochelle
Connor Murphy – Nikhil Saboo
Heidi Hansen – Jessica E. Sherman
Cynthia Murphy – Kelsey Venter (other performances Claire Rankin)
Virtual Community Voices: Becca Ayers, Mary Bacon, Gerard Canonico, Jenn Colella, Adam Halpin, Mykal Kilgore, Stephen Kunken, Tamika Lawrence, Carrie Manolakos, Ken Marks, Asa Somers, Jason Tam, Brenda Wehle, Natalie Weiss, Tim Young, Remy Zaken
Musicians: music director, conductor, keyboard, Garret Healey; associate conductor – Michael Uselmann; guitar – Matt Brown, Eric Stockton; drums – Ryan McCausland; bass – Leon Boykins; violin/concertmaster – Eugene Kaler; viola – Nikki Shorts; cello – Tahirah Whittington
“Anybody Have a Map?” – Heidi, Cynthia
“Waving Through a Window – Evan, Company
“For Forever” – Evan
“Sincerely, Me” – Connor, Evan, Jared
“Requiem” – Zoe, Larry, Cynthia
“If I Could Tell Her” – Evan, Zoe
“Disappear” – Connor, Evan, Alana, Jared, Cynthia, Larry, Zoe
“You Will Be Found” – Evan, Company
“Sincerely, Me” (Reprise) – Connor, Jared
“To Break in a Glove” – Larry, Evan
“Only Us” – Zoe, Evan
“Good for You” – Heidi, Alana, Jared, Evan
“For Forever” (Reprise) – Connor
“You Will Be Found” (Reprise) – Company
“Words Fail” – Evan
“So Big / So Small” – Heidi
“Finale” – Company
NEXT (touring Broadway): “Disney’s Frozen” May 17-29.
THE VENUE: Thrivent Financial Hall is the main theater of Fox Cities Performing Arts Center on College Avenue in downtown Appleton. The capacity is 2,072. The seating area is in the shape of a horse shoe, with three balconies following the shape. The stage is 60 feet across and 40 feet high. The décor features Veneciano plaster walls with dark-stained cherry wood. In the oval dome ceiling is a 65-foot-long chandelier that is reminiscent of the Art Deco era. The design includes ruby inserts in the opaque cream-colored glass. Flowing along the walls up to the chandelier are parallel metal pipes as if of a musical instrument. Flat walls in the front third of the hall are salmon colored, while red pleated theatrical curtains dominate the rest of the side walls. The white acoustic wing over the stage looks like the underside of a sci-fi spacecraft. The lobby area consists of lots of geometrics, glass and, on the ground level, a feeling of openness and spaciousness. The exterior of the gray building features gentle curves. A large glass skylight is reminiscent of a human eye.
THE NAME: Thrivent Financial has roots in a life insurance company that was chartered in 1902 as Aid Association for Lutherans, based in Appleton. The corporate name has been Thrivent since 2002.
RELATED: University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh will continue their collaboration with the Center for Suicide Awareness to present the third annual all-day Northeast Wisconsin Suicide Prevention Summit on Thursday, May 19. Info: uwgb.edu/suicide-prevention-summit/. According to a press release: This year’s theme is “Bouncing Back: Building Resiliency” and features wide-ranging mental health experts giving presentations on valuable topics from comprehensive viewpoints. Participants have the option of attending in-person at the NEW Center for Suicide Awareness Headquarters (181 W. Wisconsin Ave., Kaukauna) or virtually, and college students are eligible for a discounted student rate. Registration is $129 for all-day in person, including lunch, $99 for virtual, and students pay $35. One of the presenters, Ryan Ayala, a trained social worker, said events like the summit are important because, “Our healthcare system attempts to promote well-being and self-awareness in our physical and mental health, but in truth stigma, shame and fear of judgment prevent many from reaching out for support. It’s important to share knowledge and learned experiences in order to evolve our practices.” The summit is designed for anyone who might engage with higher risk populations, including psychologists, social workers or counselors, teachers, school counselors, clergy or pastoral care professionals, law enforcement officials, nurses, paramedics, medical assistants, youth leaders, student services personnel and interested/affected community members.