Dear Evan Hansen portrays its teen hero with wit and pathos | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Dear Evan Hansen portrays its teen hero with wit and pathos

Hey, white boys have feelings too!



Esquire caught some hell for its recent cover story on the plight of straight white male suburban teens. But it's possible to center that demographic with smarts and heart. Grief—or a simulacrum thereof—goes viral in Dear Evan Hansen, the 2017 Tony Award-winning musical about the anxious title character, now in a stellar touring production.

Evan (Ben Levi Ross) writes atta-boy letters to himself on the advice of his therapist. When one ends up in the pocket of Connor (Marrick Smith), a sullen classmate who commits suicide, Evan invents a friendship with Connor, both as a way to assuage the pain of Connor's family and to build his own social profile.

On paper, the premise sounds a little creepy. But Steven Levenson's book efficiently builds the case for how social media (neatly captured by Peter Nigrini's projections on David Korins's sleek and near-antiseptic set) lends itself to a tangle of self-aggrandizement and selflessness. The contrast between Evan's economically anxious single mom, Heidi (Jessica Phillips), and Connor's wealthy, trend-hopping stay-at-home mother, Cynthia (Christiane Noll), feels a bit cliche. But the show has a firm grip on the way teens both reveal and mask themselves, which Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's soaring score brings out with wit ("Sincerely, Me") and aching pathos ("Waving Through a Window").

Ross is terrific, but he's well matched by the rest of the ensemble (especially Maggie McKenna as Zoe, Connor's sister and the object of Evan's affections) in Michael Greif's staging.   v

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