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‘Dear Evan Hansen’: teen angst set to music

Dan Webster

Above: "Dear Evan Hansen" opens wide on Friday. (Photo/Universal Pictures)

If you’re a fan of teen-based musicals, then Friday will offer you a big treat. The only real opening is the film “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Not familiar with it? Well, can’t say as I blame you. I don’t keep up with Broadway shows, either. Not usually.

For the record, “Dear Evan Hansen” is a musical, described in ad-speak as “the deeply personal and profoundly contemporary musical about life and the way we live it.” In plot terms, it’s about teens and suicide, about inhibition and fear, about truth and confession and reconciliation.

That’s another way of describing a film that features Evan Hansen (Ben Platt), a disconnected high school senior who falls into a situation involving another student (Colton Ryan) that ends up winning him some undeserved fame – which leads to his having to face up to the truth and the consequent reaction of his community, including those of his mother (Julianne Moore) and the girl he adores (Kaitlyn Dever).

And it’s all done to music.

The various stagings, first in Washington, D.C., then Off Broadway, then Broadway and London and on the road, have won multiple awards, including six Tonys (including Best Musical).

Platt, by the way, won the Tony for his Broadway performance. And the film is directed by Stephen Chbosky, based on the stage production (music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, book by Steven Levenson).

Here are some critical comments, a few positive, far more mixed:

Helen Shaw, New York Magazine: “When the movie 'Dear Evan Hansen' adds dimension to the stage version, it does so by working against the original's platitudes and giving more weight to its inherent brutality.”

Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter: “Despite the pesky distractions, Platt and company still manage to deliver the right message at precisely the right time.”

And then there’s the view by Katie Walsh of the Tribune News Service: “The leap to the ‘movie realistic’ world on screen removes the veneer of artifice afforded by a theatrical setting, and the film simply cannot sustain that level of cognitive dissonance.”

Robert Daniels of RogerEbert.com puts it even more bluntly: “An emotionally manipulative, overlong dirge composed of cloying songs, lackluster vocal performances, and even worse writing.”

Wow. Let’s put that last one to music.

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