Tuesday, May 22, 2018

When "The Best" Isn't Your "Favorite": Dear Evan Hansen vs Come From Away

Will you be found?
A couple of months ago, I wrote a column about the year the Best Musical was Hamilton, but my favorite show that season was American Psycho.  (Read it HERE.)

Who'd have thought that two seasons in a row the Tonys would honor a Best Musical wasn't my Favorite Musical? That's right.  I'm talking about the 2016-2017 Broadway season, and Dear Evan Hansen was the winner. It would have been at least my fourth choice - at least fourth because I didn't get to see Groundhog Day, A Bronx Tale, In Transit or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but I did see Amelie, which I liked more than Hansen.

Ah, Pierre! You are a close second!
The other two that I liked better than the winner were Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 and Come From Away.  It is a tough call as to my favorite of the two, as I admire them both so much. Great Comet was daring, ground-breaking and very entertaining. But the book/story is kinda thin, and the show is a triumph of style over substance. I reviewed Come From Away, giving it an A+ (HERE); I have rarely seen a so completely cohesive show.  So I give the edge to Come From Away.

Oh, Connor... more of you. Please...
I had the privilege of seeing Dear Evan Hansen during its off-Broadway run, with the cast about 15 feet away from me, for the reasonable price of just $69. If I'd paid what they charge for a comparable seat at the Music Box, I'd be very upset. Very. Even allowing for the small changes in the move between 43rd and 45th Street, I am certain my opinion wouldn't change. I really didn't like it. My reasons are many. First, the score is full of that whiny, self-involved teen pablum that teens today "identify" with.  All the feels and validation.  I'd be fine with that, since the show is about self-involved teens desperate for validation, but the problem is that it all sounds the same, and there is no variation for the grown-ups.  The lyrics come from the same "How to Validate Your Snowflake" handbook.  Second, I found Ben Platt's performance to be so overwrought as to be uniformly uncomfortable to watch. You could see him working up to a cry minutes before the tears spilled on cue - at one point he was so red and sweaty, I literally thought they'd stop the show because he was becoming too ill to continue. Finally, count me out of the sympathetic-to-Evan group. While I feel for his anxiety issues and being a social outcast (I could have been him in high school, so I can relate), he is also a liar, an ungrateful brat, and a user. Worst of all, he faces virtually zero consequences for his actions, which are more than likely actually criminal. I have several other qualms with the book - his classmates are despicable people, and Connor is woefully underdeveloped and even more woefully underused. And don't get me started on the "power of social media" angle of all this. (P.S.: The school shooter line needs to be cut.)

I'll be back to kiss that fish soon, I hope!
On the other hand, Come From Away, has a fat-free, action packed, emotional book.  The varied score (played by an amazing band) has an authentically Canadian feel - modern, yet folksy, Broadway, but not. And the staging is so amazingly intricate and yet so easy to follow. The performances are so perfectly executed and they gel together seamlessly.  If you know me at all from my history of reviews, you know that, if anything, feel-good shows have to be that much better to really earn my adoration.  This show does just that. Who knew that we'd ever be able to laugh at the events of 9/11? Or that we needed to?  But there you have it.

My favorite musical of the season was not the Best Musical two years in a row.  Will it be three?  I guess we'll see... if The Band's Visit loses, I may just lose my faith in the Tony Awards.

SIDE NOTE: Had I been reviewing shows when I saw them: Dear Evan Hansen (D) and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 (A+)

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