The Tony nominations for the 2015-2016 Broadway season will be announced on Tuesday morning. But I’m willing to bet that if you flash forward by one year, “Dear Evan Hansen,” which just opened off-Broadway at Second Stage, will have transferred to Broadway and be reaping quite a few nominations itself.
With a soft-rock score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“A Christmas Story,” “Dogfight”), direction by Michael Greif (“Rent,” “Next to Normal”) and a stunning, extremely vulnerable performance from Ben Platt (“Pitch Perfect”), “Dear Evan Hansen” is a clever and moving portrait of high school teens who feel alarmingly isolated and lonely against a backdrop of overwhelming social media.
Evan Hansen (Platt) is a sensitive, painfully shy high school senior. His loving mother (Rachel Bay Jones) has no clue how to help him. She has him seeing a psychiatrist, who assigned him the task of writing a daily letter to himself about why it will be a good day. Since Evan has no friends, the only person who signs the cast on his broken arm is the aggressive loner Connor (Mike Faist). As it happens, Evan has a hopeless crush on Connor’s sister (Laura Dreyfuss).
I will not spoil any of the plot developments in Steven Levenson’s book, but let’s just say that crazy, tragic circumstances erupt that lead to Hansen perpetuating an elaborate and dangerous lie. In the process, he is forced to shake off his passivity and come out of his shell.
The storytelling is timely, engrossing and complex. The tone alternates between gentle, satirical, provocative and wrenching. The songs are seamlessly integrated into the book. Greif’s intimate staging is built around digital projections that materialize on shifting panels.
Bottom line: This is a musical meant for teens, parents and anyone who has ever felt like an outsider. It has the potential to attract a big following, and deservedly so.
If you go
“Dear Evan Hansen” plays through May 29 at Second Stage. 305 W. 43rd St., 2st.com.