Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 30, 2022

REVIEW: The Bushnell, Dear Evan Hansen

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
Through April 3, 2022
By Jarice Hanson

Audiences in the Pioneer Valley/Nortern CT have been waiting for the touring company of the Broadway hit, “Dear Evan Hansen” since May, 2020 when it was originally scheduled to come to the Bushnell.  

Now that the pandemic has allowed touring companies to perform again, run--don’t walk--to see this wonderful story brought to life by an extraordinary company of actors/singers and musicians.

photo by Mathew Murphy
“Dear Evan Hansen” is ultimately a story of how hard it is to be a young person, social anxiety, parental relationships, and the aloneness of contemporary life.  E-mail is the way of communicating, and when Evan is instructed by his doctor to write a letter to himself, he composes a letter thought by others, to be his classmate Connor’s admission of his despair. The story deals tough subjects, including suicide, but it is also a story about hope and figuring out how the real world is preferable to the online world of lies and innuendo. 

There are 17 actors in the company, but only eight perform each night. On opening night Sam Primack, listed in the program as the “alternate” Evan Hansen took the lead with his boyish charm and skilled vocalizations. A totally believable lovable nerd, Evan is the kid in every class that everyone overlooks. When he has an encounter with a troubled teen named Connor, his imagination spins into a story that filled with humor, and an overshadowing sadness that gives this tale a contemporary wallop that had most of the audience in tears by the end of Act I. 

Nikhil Saboo, as Connor, has a voice like an angel, and when Alessandro Costantini as Jared, a kid with an entrepreneurial streak, joins in the trio, the three “boys” light up the stage with clever choreography by Danny Mefford. 

The songs carry most of the story that is supplemented by dialog and brilliant staging by Director Michael Grief. Every performer is perfect in their roles, and the sound design (sometimes a problem at the Bushnell) allows the singers articulation to carry the meaning in the extraordinary songs penned by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Music Director Garret Healey on keyboards conducted the seven live musicians on a cantilevered platform, and were perfectly attuned to the singers’ voices.

Every cast member is a standout, and most have Broadway credits to their names. Jessica E. Sherman was exceptionally moving as Evan’s mother; Claire Rankin and James Moye as Connor’s bereaved parents; and Stephanie La Rochelle as Zoe, their daughter, personalized the grief that can tear a family apart. Another “student” who becomes involved in the plan to memorialize Connor, is played by Ciara Alyse Harris, who demonstrates stage presence far beyond her years.

It’s easy to see why “Dear Evan Hansen” won six Tony Awards, including “Best Musical.” As an anthem to mental health and the problems of youth, the show seems timeless. It was also notable that the audience was comprised of a number of single parents and their teens. It’s a story that ultimately does what theater does best—it exposes the humanity we all need. This production, delayed by the pandemic, shows that life goes on and can be absolutely wonderful.