It’s impossible to walk away from “Dear Evan Hansen” at the DCPA without being blown away by a show that’s as much a visual spectacle as it is a marvel of musical theater talent.
But yet, there’s something nagging about the show that, as it bills itself, focuses on the power of unintended consequences.
Denver, which has become a favorite of the touring Broadway show industry, gets the national premier of the touring version of “Dear Evan Hansen,” at the Buell Theater through Oct. 13.
It’s a stunning spectacle for a bevy of reasons that brought critical acclaim and six Tony Awards in 2017 to the Broadway production.
“Evan” is a profoundly personal and touching story about a boy in high school disabled by anxiety and awkwardness. Ben Levi Ross, as Evan, commands the stage, the audience and a world of tender emotions and pain from one remarkable musical number to another. The show won a Grammy last year.
Evan writes letters to himself as part of a psychiatric therapy exercise, writing one that sinks dark into his adolescent pain and loneliness.
The letter inadvertently falls into the hands of a boy who commits suicide, and his parents mistakenly think the letter was written by their dead son, Connor, because it begins, “Dear Evan Hansen.”
Evan capitalizes on the mistake, creating the show’s tension, as his life gets better while the lie draws more and more people into its eddy.
The show’s story, songs, characters and even the multi-media set pulls full-force at the audience from the first moments of the production. It immediately appeals to anyone who’s struggled with the awkwardness of relationships and the critical pain of adolescence, which is pretty much everyone. Provocatively, the show puts issue dealing with child suicide and mental illness right in the spotlight.
Song after song, scene after scene, the witty, savvy and controversial production is captivating as the fantasy of hundreds of millions of teenagers across the planet plays out on stage. From invisible and unlikable flotsam, Evan is transmuted to become one of the coolest kids in school — on a lie.
Much of the show’s wit and adolescent appeal comes from schoolmate Jared Kleinman, who offers a Spielberg-like foil to Evan’s pathos. Jared, played by Jared Goldsmith, is every bit Ross’ equal on stage, creating a tag-team of energy and tension as the play unfolds. The entire cast is rock solid, but Goldsmith and Ross rule the evening.
So, too, does the set by David Korins. The illuminated barrage of hi-def screens filled with Twitter feeds, texts, Facebook posts and other social media madness plays to the show’s focus on how universal the themes of loneliness and fear are, but how contemporary the problems are when magnified by a world that makes everything wildly public in an instant.
When the inevitable happens , and the resolution plays out, with the best musical numbers giving way to just more musical numbers, the show lands heavily on the audience. Right now, maybe too heavily.
Maybe it’s just the odd timing, since the country is roiled by a tsunami of worry over fake news, especially on social media. The nation is floundering in institutionalized mendacity in Washington and the White House, and even more recently, the controversy over who lied or didn’t lie in the saga of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford.
When the show opened in 2015, “Dear Evan Hansen” would have been a contemporary morality play, allowing the audience to take comfort on some good coming from so much bad and a compounding lie that made it all the worse. But right now, the show exposes a new wrinkle, leaving the audience to wonder more deeply about the benefits of an end justified by the means of a lie. Maybe the show was prophetic in billing itself as an exploration of unintended consequences.
FOUR OF FIVE STARS
Dear Evan Hansen
• Dear Evan Hansen, the national touring show, plays at the Buell Theater at the Denver Center for Performing Arts Complex in downtown Denver.
• Tickets start at $40, available at denvercenter.org (There is a $25 ticket lottery on the website.
Performances through Oct. 13.