Dear Evan Hansen

DEHOriginal Broadway Cast, 2017 (Atlantic ) 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) A musical that unapologetically wears its heart on its sleeve, Dear Evan Hansen is the most high profile theater work to date from the songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Set in a nondescript modern suburb, the show centers around a high school introvert with intense anxiety issues who finds himself involved in a misunderstanding which, partly due to the double-edged sword of social media and its galvanizing impact, snowballs into a giant lie that does both good and harm. Though the character of Evan is a little too broadly painted in his neuroses, and the show’s commentary on the effect of social media in modern culture doesn’t go quite as deep as it should, Pasek and Paul’s score is memorable and compelling, managing to wax poetic without being too on-the-nose in its imagery. Ben Platt, in the title role, does the majority of the vocal heavy lifting here, delivering a fully rounded and thrilling performance. It helps that he’s given the best songs in the score: the show’s biggest hit, “Waving Through a Window,” as well as the crushing “Words Fail” and the lovely if slightly heavy-handed “For Forever.” Platt is well supported by Rachel Bay Jones as Evan’s endearing, struggling, single mother; and Laura Dreyfuss, refreshingly understated as Zoe, the object of Evan’s affections, who may be harmed most by Evan’s lie. The cast album includes minimal dialogue, opting instead to present each song as a stand-alone item. While this doesn’t harm the flow of the recording, and has helped a few of the songs to break out as popular hits, two songs suffer from such treatment: “Good For You,” a cathartic release of Evan’s mom’s pent-up frustration, here plateaus in its anger, with no release; and the offbeat humor of “Sincerely Me” comes across as somewhat tasteless out of context. That said, the rest of the album works very well. Alex Lacamoire’s orchestrations (with additional work by Christopher Jahnke) are appropriately pop-oriented, and Justin Paul’s vocal arrangements never go overboard with vocal pyrotechnics. The restraint in their work separates DEH from many other contemporary scores, allowing the emotional weight of the piece to really resonate with the listener. And there are plenty of emotions here to resonate. — Matt Koplik

Motion Picture Soundtrack, 2021 (Interscope) 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) While the Broadway stage production of Dear Evan Hansen received critical acclaim, the movie version was met largely with controversy and derision. Director Stephen Chbosky stated that the main reason the project went forward was to “preserve” Ben Platt’s performance as Evan, leading some to label the movie as nothing more than a vanity project. Listening to this soundtrack, one may feel that some artistic decisions were made to showcase Platt rather than to best adapt the musical for the motion picture medium. For example, several Benj Pasek-Justin Paul songs from the show that didn’t include Evan have been cut, and while few listeners will miss “To Break In A Glove,” the excision of other characters’ songs has sanded down the piece’s cynical edge, making the moral ambiguity of the plot and its view of Evan’s duplicity more unappealing. All of that said, the soundtrack is still a pleasant listening experience. No matter the consensus on Platt’s performance on screen, his singing voice is exceptional, and he has an even greater control of his instrument here than on the Broadway recording. The enlarged arrangements and orchestrations  — typical of movie adaptations of stage musicals — are fun, if not as dramatically compelling as the restrained originals. The supporting cast is strong, though largely wasted, with not much material to showcase their talents. Kaitlyn Dever makes a particularly effective Zoe, and Julianne Moore shows a surprisingly sweet singing voice in “So Big/So Small,” even if it she sometimes sounds overly auto-tuned. Two new songs were added for the movie, the more notable of them being “The Anonymous Ones.” Given to the character Ilana, played by Amandla Stenberg, the song was co-written by Stenberg with Pasek and Paul, and it aims to provide more of an inner-life for a character who was mostly a plot device in the stage show. Compared to other songs that have been added to past movie versions of stage musicals, this one is more satisfying and well-rounded, even if it’s not quite up to the quality level of the rest of the score. — M.K.