Dear Evan Hansen: I went to see Dear Evan Hansen at the Kennedy Center on Friday night. While it originated at Arena Stage in D.C., I never managed to see it during its original run. The plot involves a teenage boy who writes letters to himself as part of a therapy assignment. Another boy takes one of these letters off the printer at the computer lab in school – and then commits suicide. Finding the letter, that boy’s parents believe that he and Evan were great friends. Evan doesn’t want to break their hearts, so he goes along with this – and the lie takes over, complete with social media campaign.
The music and lyrics are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who were also responsible for La La Land and The Greatest Showman, both of which I disliked. And, frankly, I found the music here eminently forgettable. In short, the songs pretty much all sound alike. There’s next to no choreography, either. One has to wonder why this is a musical at all. And, frankly, with so much of the story depending on social media, I can’t imagine this having all that long of a life. The emotions will still be relevant in 20 years, but will anybody care about the mechanisms for both hiding and expressing them?
The plus side is in the performances. Ben Levi Ross was excellent in the title role and Maggie McKenna as Zoe (the sister of the dead boy and Evan’s long-running crush) balanced him nicely. There was fine comic relief from Jared Goldsmith as Jared and Phoebe Koyabe as Alana. One just wishes they had less obvious material to work with.
Assassins: On Sunday, I saw Assassins at Signature Theatre. I’ve seen this show before and listened to the original cast album dozens of times, but it is always worth seeing a Sondheim show at Signature, which has made something of a specialty of his work. (In fact, the program points out that this is their 30th Sondheim musical.) So the point of going was to see how they handled this brilliant but difficult work.
Short answer – they handled it very well. Sam Ludwig was a little folksier than I’d have preferred as the Balladeer, perhaps, but not annoyingly so. Lawrence Redmond made a sympathetic Leon Czolgosz, particularly in the bar scene as he explains why it matters that someone breaks a bottle. Evan Casey was surprisingly tender as John Hinckley. Bobby Smith (a local favorite) completely captured the craziness of Charles Guiteau, notably in "The Ballad of Guiteau." Christopher Bloch was very funny as Sam Byck. And then there were Rachel Zampelli as Squeaky Fromme and Tracy Lynn Olvera as Sara Jane Moore, both of whom gave wonderful performances. I should note that Moore’s story is probably the least accurate in the show. (For one thing, Fromme and Moore’s assassination attempts were a couple of weeks apart. For another, Moore’s failed because of a faulty sight on her gun and her arm being deflected on her second shot attempt, not because she didn’t know how to shoot a gun. Nor did she bring along her dog and son. But that’s not as funny.)
Overall, this is still Sondheim at his most brilliant and most disturbing.
Meet Twain: The really big news of the weekend was that I replaced Neptune, my dearly beloved 1994 Saturn SL2. My new car is a white 2019 Hyundai Accent, which I have named Twain (as in Accent Mark.) It’s nice to have a car where the air conditioning works and the ceiling fabric is not tearing and falling down.
Many of my friends are in shock. One colleague (on the West Coast) referred to this as "big news from coast to coast" and said it is a good omen for our purchase of additional satellites.
I am hoping this will be my last car purchase ever.
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