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: SpeakEasy Stage Company’s intriguing ‘The Children’ explores resilience and buried secrets

What would you do in the face of a disaster?

Under the roof of a shabby and antiquated seaside English cottage, Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children looks into the lives of three brilliant and possibly doomed people that may be more connected than they seem.  Not without its dark sense of humor and charm, The Children is a gripping exploration into the meaning of survival in a crumbling landscape and what happens next has never been more important.

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Paula Plum, Karen MacDonald, and Tyrees Allen in SpeakEasy Stage’s production. Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Directed with profound insight by Bryn Boice, SpeakEasy Stage Company recently had to discontinue the remaining performances of The Children at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts due to COVID-19 concerns. This show contained adult themes and some smoking onstage.  Click here to learn about the remaining shows of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s 2020 season.

Paula Plum as Hazel chillingly recalls the disaster, “It looked like the sea was boiling milk and it just kept boiling and boiling.”  Married couple Hazel and Robin face day-to- day life in the aftermath of a disaster.  With few resources, they attempt to build a new life when an old friend, one that Hazel thought was dead, arrives unexpectedly.

Technical Director Taylor Hansen and Master Electrician Becky Marsh launched some incredible special effects built into the stage.  Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s colorful costumes flourish against Cristina Todesco’s bleak scenic design while lighting designer Jeff Adelberg and David Remedios’s sound design skillfully complete the show’s haunting seaside solitude.

The Children is steeped in as much looming sadness as engaging humor.  That is in no small part due to its three stellar actors and sharp script that swings from humor to tragic in a single quip.

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With a thick, Yorkshire accent, Paula Plum embodies low key, practical, and increasing complex Hazel.  Simply dressed in overalls and a turtleneck, Plum is as capable of leveling a room with her eyes as she is with her dry wit.  Plum seems to relish cynical and stealthy characters behind a seemingly ordinary facade and Hazel holds her own surprises.  She reconnects unexpectedly with enigmatic, free-spirited, and one-time confidant Rose, portrayed with gumption and gall by Karen MacDonald.  Watching Plum and MacDonald spar and interact with each other is like watching a tense chess match where you are anxious to find out who will make the next move.  They share stories, philosophize, and trade smiles while wondering what kind of secret the other one is hiding.

Having last portrayed Pops in SpeakEasy Stage’s critically-acclaimed Between Riverside and Crazy, Tyrees Allen is a charismatic and often fun loving presence as Robin, Hazel’s dairy farmer husband.  Allen and Plum have a seemingly effortless chemistry with an even mix of irritability and adoration illustrated in old married couples.  A man of stubbornness and solutions, Allen’s seemingly carefree attitude cuts through Plum and MacDonald’s building tension before he creates some of his own.  The deliberate unfolding of this story occurs in sharp, sequential pieces with hardly time to digest the last big revelation before the next one is unveiled.

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Tyrees Allen, Paula Plum, and Karen MacDonald in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s ‘The Children’ Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

So why is this production called The Children?  While Hazel is grounded by her three children, Rose is single and childless.  Children are explored in multifaceted ways whether referring to Hazel’s children, the community children, the things we learn from children, and the things we wish we knew as children growing up.  However, life begins and ends with children in this production and the very foundation in what holds them together is also what can tear them apart.

Click here to learn more about The Children and the remaining shows of SpeakEasy Stage Company’s season.  Click here to learn about auditions, support, and how to get involved with SpeakEasy Stage Company.