With my first experience with "Dear Evan Hansen" having been the mediocre 2021 film, I went into the beloved show with tempered expectations.
From the initial curtain, marked by a blast of cell phone notifications and a background screen cluttered with frenzied projections of social media posts, the touring production defines its presence and ensures that you'll be in for 150 minutes of captivating, moving, thought-provoking and envelope-pushing entertainment.
It's immediately apparent that "Dear Evan Hansen" never should have been a movie. Such is the spell cast by the stagecraft, the orchestra perched on a high-rise in the background and the thunderous emotion related by the performers that this is a stage show at its heart, and to take the stage out of the equation is to take away its pulse.
Anthony Norman is a powerhouse in the lead role. Rather than trying to imitate the iconic mannerisms and voice fluctuations of Ben Platt, he makes Evan thoroughly his own. Norman's Evan is an endearing jumble of jitters, stutters, tics and self-loathing that captivates throughout the entirety of the show.
Evan is at the center of an adolescent hellscape, surrounded by others who only seem to have it together, barely concealing their own inner torrents of doubt and despair.
Coleen Sexton is an empathetic, frazzled battlefield of conflicted interests as Heidi, Evan's single mother who desperately tries to help his son cope with his debilitating social anxiety while scrapping together enough income to get by while working and striving for a more lucrative career while going to night school.
August Emerson delves into distressingly dark territory as Connor, the boy whose suicide serves as the focal point of Evan's descent into self-actualization via deception. After Connor's death, Evan starts masquerades as his secret best friend. Through Evan, Connor's family -- including Evan's No. 1 crush, Zoe (Alaina Anderson) -- as well as the rest of the community, grieve through the lost boy they never truly knew, using Connor as their touchstone.
Anderson, whose tender, guarded demeanor masks her growing attraction to Evan and her conflicted feelings about Connor, thrives in a tour de force performance that is nearly equal to Norman's revelation of a central role. Together, they capture the tragicomic madness of teen romance.
Other standouts include Micaela Lamas's turn as Alana, the alpha female who spearheads Evan's efforts and Lady Macbeths him into realms far over his head, and Pablo David Laucerica's comic relief turn as Jared, Evan's frenemy, co-conspirator and one-man Greek (geek?) chorus.
Bolstered with an uplifting soundtrack and buttressed with the steady background patter of the mindless, irrepressible force of social media pressures, "Dear Evan Hansen" obliterated my expectations, leaving me stunned, heartbroken and oddly hopeful that I was not alone.
"Dear Evan Hansen" plays through Feb. 26 at Centennial Hall. Buy tickets here.