In a season filled with outstanding musicals, Dear Evan Hansen seems like a shoe-in to win this year's Tony Award for best new musical. Composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul teamed with stellar librettist Steven Levenson and musical director Alex Lacamoire to produce a singular and completely original work of beauty, and Lacamoire has done a masterful job of capturing it in this original cast album.
In the stage production, Ben Platt delivers what might be the greatest individual performance ever on a musical theater stage, portraying Evan, a teenager struggling to cope with crippling social anxiety. Pasek and Paul break musical conventions by handing the character a blockbuster first solo number, "Waving Through A Window." It's a beautiful song that showcase's Platt's effortless tenor while dragging you in and setting up all that follows.
In the musical, Levenson's dialog combines humor and suspense to unfold a plot in which Evan gets tangled up in a painful lie with the parents of another troubled boy, Connor Murphy. Unable to admit his own dark truths, Evan keeps digging himself deeper in a script that channels the best writing of Alfred Hitchcock. It's astonishing to watch, and while the dialog is not part of the cast album, Lacamoire has done a masterful job of capturing the tensions and beauty of the performances in this recording.
Listen for example to "For Forever," the song in which Evan is trapped into fabricating the fake backstory of his friendship to Connor's parents. It's a beautiful, hopeful, soaring song capturing Evan's dream of what a real friendship might be, while allowing him to reinvent the painful truth of how he broke his arm; but every time Evan starts to lie, an electric guitar enhanced with reverb and delay provide a haunting suggestion that something's not right.
As the lie ultimately collapses in the second act song "Words Fail," Platt somehow manages to have a complete breakdown while singing on stage. It's a tour de force, and it is lovingly captured here for posterity. Platt surely will walk away with the Tony Award for lead in a musical, and soon after this recording is all we'll have left to remember his astonishing performance.
As for Pasek and Paul's songwriting, you aren't human if you can keep a dry eye through Rachel Bay Jones' heart wrenching rendition of "So Big/So Small," a mother's apology to her son for having "come up short a million different ways," but promising to always be there for him. Here again, Lacamoire's restrained acoustic arrangement is perfection, allowing Jones' love and despair to transmit to the recording.
The "supporting roles" in this cast are not to be ignored, particularly the more "minor" roles such as Evan's fellow students. They are all exceptional singers, and they blend to lift songs such as Waving Through a Window, You Will Be Found, and Finale.
I wish everybody could see this show, but it's a comfort to know that this cast recording has captured the essence so beautifully for generations.