REVIEW:  ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ a moving but uneven film adaptation of the Tony award-winning musical

A broken arm is the catalyst to much more for Evan Hansen.

Winner of six Tony Awards including Best Picture, Dear Evan Hansen stage musical took Broadway by storm in 2014 by distinctly addressing subjects that are becoming dangerously prevalent in contemporary society.  Dear Evan Hansen delves into difficult territory and is not for everyone, but it is not hard to see why this musical has gained such acclaim. 

The use of social media, the internet, and digital rather than face-to-face interaction due to the pandemic have had people feeling more alone than ever before which has caused social anxiety to gain a greater foothold in our society.  With sweaty palms, a constant stream of over thinking, an overwhelming feeling of loneliness in a crowd, and the pressure to live up to what others expect, senior high school student Evan Hansen struggles with interacting with almost everyone until a chance encounter changes his life.

Based on the Tony award-winning musical, Dear Evan Hansen is available on HBO Max, on DVD, and on demand.  Click here for more information.

The film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen has gained some notoriety among the stage musical’s fans because a portion of the musical’s character driven development is left out of the film.  As one who has not seen the musical, Dear Evan Hansen is a pretty somber musical experience about a tragedy and a lie that ends up having a life of its own as the film progresses.   There are cringe-worthy moments to be certain, but they stem from how deep the rabbit hole of that big lie goes and its inevitable consequences.

What first attracted me to this production was Requiem, a powerful number with beautiful harmony that still stands as my favorite performance.  Kaitlin Dever’s chiming vocals as Zoe carry the poignant conflict and the bitterness of Requiem while still preserving her as a troubled and sympathetic figure.  Amy Adams as Cynthia Murphy delivers a heartrending performance highlighted by her part in Requiem.  However, without a solo number such as A Little Bit of Light as part of this film adaptation, her character has a lack of dimension and less of a sense of what her actual relationship has been with her late son who is lost to mental illness.   Danny Pino as Larry Murphy reveals a compelling and complex relationship with his late stepson, but the film would have been better if the adaptation delved deeper into his character.  Julianne Moore has much more to work with as Heidi Hansen, Evan Hansen’s single mother.  She and Ben Platt as Evan have a complicated, yet caring relationship and Moore shines for the moving number, So Big/So Small.   Amanda Stenberg as overachieving Alana Beck is a fascinating look into another side of mental illness and how people are not so different in Anonymous Anymore.

Ben Platt originated the Tony award-winning role as Evan Hansen and also does a marvelous job for the film.  Though he seems a little old for the role at this point, Platt’s portrayal of Evan’s anxiety is palpable as he depicts Evan’s struggles right from the opening number, Waving through a Window.  His vocals have a soft and introspective quality as he shares his bewilderment and tenseness in attempting to socialize and make friends.  At times he is visibly shaken and some of the mixed signals and missed social cues he reads from others can be painful to watch.  His simple and hopeful delivery for All We See is Sky Forever is a pivotal and bittersweet song and You Will be Found is inspiring and universally-appealing.  Platt also has some awkward but sweet chemistry with Dever as Zoe in the numbers, Only Us and If I Could Tell Her

Dear Evan Hansen film is not a powerhouse musical, but is filled with quiet reflections, inspirational messages, and sobering revelations. Much of the film deals with various aspects of coping with life and grief, but it also has scattered humor and a few darkly comical moments in the number Sincerely, Me.  The ending is not delivered the same way as the musical and seems to wrap too quickly.  As one who hasn’t seen the musical, I was less aware of what was missing and seeing Ben Platt’s performance was worth watching.  See Dear Evan Hansen the film for its memorable cast and appealing soundtrack, but hold out for the stage musical to get the entire story.

Dear Evan Hansen is available on HBO Max, on DVD, and on demand.  Click here for more information and here to see the stage musical on Broadway or on its national tour.

REVIEW:  Creativity runs wild in Andrew Garfield’s Oscar-nominated portrayal as Jonathan Larson in Netflix’s ‘tick, tick…BOOM!’

Though at times he has traveled under the radar from stage to screen aside from his turn as our friendly neighborhood Spiderman, Andrew Garfield has most deservedly been on the map lately.  Though he was sadly overlooked by the Academy as the emotional center of David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s 2010 acclaimed drama, The Social Network, Garfield has finally scored an Academy Award-nomination for the musical hit, tick tick…BOOM! available on Netflix.  Garfield has a knack for dynamic performances and though everyone is looking at Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Garfield also brought a wealth of humor, quirkiness, and manipulative prowess to his portrayal of TV Evangelist Jim Bakker.

Once an Off-Broadway play, tick, tick…BOOM’s film adaptation is available now on Netflix and directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  The film is currently Oscar-nominated for Best Actor for Andrew Garfield and Best Film Editing and Garfield has a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

As Lin-Manuel Miranda was once a struggling writer himself, it is not surprising he is the director of the Academy Award-nominated musical tick, tick…BOOM!, a fascinating semi-autobiographical story about Jonathan Larson, a struggling writer living in New York City years before he created his hit rock musical, RENT.  A writer writes about what one knows and so much of this story offers glimpses into Larson’s inspiration for that wildly-successful musical.

However, this is about the struggle and this musical film is brimming with it.  The painstaking work of creativity and all that could go wrong illuminates tick, tick…BOOM! as Larson struggles to keep it all together to achieve what at times seems impossible, especially in New York City.  tick, tick…BOOM! is not only about Jonathan Larson’s frantic life, but it is also an ode to the writer and the struggle to live that extraordinarily competitive dream while just skirting out and skimming by trying to get a chance.

At its center is narrator and lead Andrew Garfield who brings a driving intensity and delivers an electrifying performance as the frenetic Larson on the eve of Larson’s 30th birthday.  The unconventional, deeply creative, and quick-thinking Larson divides his time between writing and working at the Moondance Diner.  Look for Lin-Manuel Miranda as a short order cook.  However, music and writing naturally pours out of Larson’s soul and he is often consumed by it at the expense of everything else.  For forward-thinking Larson, turning 30 is a looming chasm that soaks up every ounce of his time until that odious deadline as he demonstrates in the catchy and memorable number, 30/90.  Thirty is not old, but maybe Larson always felt like he was running out of time.

The musical features a dynamic, infectious, and multi-dimensional soundtrack about living in your 20s in New York City and how life changes.   RENT’s influence is unmistakably evident in the lighthearted and humorous numbers, Boho Days and No More.  It is also easy to recognize the roots that will develop Larson’s future work.  Inside the Moondance Diner, Sunday features beautiful harmonies that include some of Broadway’s biggest stars.  Therapy is a fantastic and humorous number about the miscommunication of love.  The rap-infused Play Game depicts the struggle between living out the uncertainty of your dream or entering the corporate world which is a prevalent theme throughout the film.

tick, tick BOOM! explores the little victories, the bigger victories, and the gut-wrenching defeats in Larson’s personal and professional world.  However, what is genuinely important becomes painfully clear and what truly inspires his work changes as the film progresses.

tick, tick BOOM! is currently streaming on Netflix. Click here for more information on RENT’s 25th Anniversary Farewell Tour.

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective’s ‘The Three Musketeers’ packs action, comedy, and a contemporary twist

‘The Three Musketeers‘ stands the test of time for a reason.  Full of swashbuckling adventure, revenge, humor, and romance, ‘The Three Musketeers’ has a universal appeal, a historical tale of three not-so-flawless defenders of the crown in dangerous 17th century Paris, a time where an ambush could take place at any moment.

Many different versions of this classic tale have taken over the stage and screen over the years and that is no surprise.  It’s a pliable tale with lots of room for creativity.

The Greater Boston Stage Company, in collaboration with The Front Porch Arts Collective, creates a re-imagined adaptation for their final production of the season.  This time, from fights to music to storyline to breaking the fourth wall, ‘The Three Musketeers’ weaves in the classic with the contemporary presenting a new twist of how this story could have played out.

Adapted by Catherine Bush from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, Greater Boston Stage Company continues ‘The Three Musketeers’ through Sunday, June 30 in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for more on the Front Porch Arts Collective.

Greater Boston Stage Company - The Three Musketeers cast

The Three Musketeers cast Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

The last time the Sleepless Critic reviewed a show featuring the Front Porch Arts Collective, it was in collaboration with the Lyric Stage Company for the critically-acclaimed musical, ‘Breath and Imagination’ back in December.  It was a brilliant, dramatic piece with an incomparable performance by Davron S. Monroe as opera great Roland Hayes.

The Front Porch Arts Collective shows its lighter side with ‘The Three Musketeers.’  Though Alexandre Dumas’s novel can be a heavy read, the films and stage productions have always been an exciting romp with some adaptations better than others.  The Greater Boston Stage Company weaves together a wealth of elements, including stylized action sequences, a good dose of humor, eclectic, bolder costumes, and creative casting, but stays pretty faithful to the classic storyline otherwise.

‘The Three Musketeers’ follows Marc Pierre as a fresh-faced country boy named D’Artagnan who wishes to offer his services to the disheveled, world-weary Musketeers.  Pierre portrays D’Artagnan with a love struck charm, wide-eyed wonder, and transparency.  He’s an easy character to root for.

The Greater Boston Stage Company Tonasia Jones as Madame de Treville and Marc Pierre as D'Artagnan

Teaching the ropes. Tonasia Jones as Madame de Treville and Marc Pierre as D’Artagnan Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Instead of women as primarily damsels in distress, some of the damsels are the Musketeers themselves.  Paige Clark as Aremis and Lyndsey Allen Cox as Athos prove they are more than up to the challenge, showing prowess and agility in their perspective roles.  Cox as witty and sardonic Athos has some great lines in this show and one of the most memorable is “Love is a lottery whose prize is death.”  Along with James Richardo Milord, who gives gravitas to goofy, selfish, but well-meaning Porthos, this trio has good chemistry as they embark on new adventures.

The Greater Boston Stage Company - Maurice Emmanuel Parent as Cardinal Richelieu

Maurice Emmanuel Parent as Cardinal Richelieu Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

The humor is there, especially from Maurice Emmanuel Parent, the Executive Director of Front Porch Arts Collective, as dastardly Cardinal Richelieu.  From his raised, mischievous eyebrow to his magnificent, resonating laugh as he occasionally lets the audience in on an elusive inside joke, he steals the show.  Tonesia Jones also gives a charismatic and commanding performance as Madame de Treville.  Her interaction with the Musketeers lands with drive and heart.

Margaret Clark is a spellbinding spitfire as M’Lady while J.T. Turner, wearing an eye patch, portrays shrewd and creepy Rocheford as he lurks in the shadows.

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What also stands out in this production is the exciting action and stellar fight scenes, led by fight director Angie Jepson.  From barrooms to the king’s court, the battles are fought valiantly with a good dose of comedy and high jinks.  This show takes a lot of modern liberties in a good fight and takes a more serious turn in the second half, so like a Musketeer, be prepared for anything.

Adapted by Catherine Bush from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, Greater Boston Stage Company, in collaboration with The Front Porch Arts Collective, continues ‘The Three Musketeers’ through Sunday, June 30 at 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here for a closer look at Front Porch Arts Collective.

Americana Theatre Company’s David Friday and Nick Mitchell talk ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’

Over 70 years ago, despair, hardship, hope, and generosity encompassed a holiday tale that quickly became a film classic.  Based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story, The Greatest Gift, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life became an annual family tradition for generations and The Americana Theatre Company is bringing back this popular, unique retelling of this beloved story suited to the film’s time period.  With a small cast inhabiting over 40 roles with a Christmas Eve setting, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is performed as a 1940s radio play with a cast of just five actors.  The show runs from Wednesday, December 6 through Saturday, December 16 at Plymouth Center for the Arts in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

American Theatre Company cast 2017

A few cast member from Americana Theatre Company’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’ through December 16 Photo courtesy of Americana Theatre Company

Managing Director of the Americana Theatre Company David Friday and Director Nick Mitchell discuss the inspirational transformation of It’s a Wonderful Life into an interactive, onstage, and in-studio live radio show.

Sleepless Critic:  What I like so much about It’s a Wonderful Life:  A Live Radio Play is the nostalgic 1940s setting fits right in line with the time period of the film.  How did this idea come about?

Nick Mitchell:  Radio plays have taken off and a lot of companies are doing live, mock radio plays by bringing in the effects and the different voices from the actors.  It was only a matter of time before authors got a hold of pieces like It’s a Wonderful Life.  Two different versions of the script are available for It’s a Wonderful Life that is a formatted radio play.  The one we’re using is by Joe Landry who condensed it into anywhere from 40 actors, but five are recommended and five is what we are going with.

SC:  Those five actors will play 40 roles as I understand.

NM:  Yes, indeed.  George Bailey is played by Jesse Sullivan, Emily Turner Marsland as Mary. They play just those roles, but Josh Nicholson, David Friday, and Erin Friday, the Director of Education for Americana Theatre, play everybody else.

SC:  I understand your voices will be enhanced with microphones, sound effects, and there will also be an authentic ‘Applause’ sign.

NM:  The ‘Applause’ sign is funny.  David made this fully working sign.  I kept thinking during the rehearsal process whether it is bright enough for the audience to see it.  However, audiences have responded to it the minute that sign lit up.  It was fun to watch.

It's a Wonderful Life A Live Radio Play

Cast of It’s a Wonderful Life In Studio Photo courtesy of Americana Theatre Company

SC:  It also makes it more interactive for the audience too.

DF:  The opening speech of the show explains to the audience that the broadcast will be in a radio studio.  Other performances of this show have to be done on a large stage and broadcast on the radio to a different venue.  In the opening speech, the announcer says that people at home are going to be able to hear you so laugh, applaud, cry, and it will all be part of the show.  It really tries to get everybody involved including our stage manager.  He can be seen in the production booth window.  We added that nice little twist.

SC:  Have there been any surprises during this show’s run such as unexpected reactions to certain scenes?

DF:  It’s one of my favorite movies of all time.  I see it every year just like most people do and get a little misty when I watch it.  At the end of one evening’s performance, quite a few audience members were crying or very close to it.  It is good for us.  It just tells us we’ve been able to capture the spirit of the original film.

It’s nice and I’ve actually seen a couple of online Facebook comments that people can’t wait to go home and watch it.  They enjoyed the show and want to watch it because the show recaptured something in a way that they have never seen it and want to go back and relate it to what they know.  People even thinking that way is a large victory for us.

SC:  What is the best reason one should come see the production?

NM:  In this digital age, we get entertainment where and when we want it with a push of a button.  I think at this time of year, a show and format like this reminds us to set aside some time with people that mean something to us and be entertained.  In the process, see how many lives we’ve touched in the meantime.

SC:  It’s a live show so anything can happen.

NM:  It will, believe me.

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play continues through Saturday, December 16 at Plymouth Center for the Arts, 11 North Street in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Reserve tickets by clicking here or call 1-508-591-0282. Tickets will also be available at the door.  Follow the Americana Theatre Company of Facebook for more information about this amazing theatre company and future productions.