August 3, 2015

The quirks of fate prove both kind and cruel in “Dear Evan Hansen,” a sweet, sad and quite moving new musical making its premiere here at Arena Stage. The title character, a friendless teenager crippled by the depression that only being a friendless teenager can bring, is caught up in the whiplash of web fame when a note he wrote finds its way into the hands of another troubled kid, with complicated consequences. The beguiling score, the finest work yet from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Off Broadway’s “Dogfight” and the Broadway musical “A Christmas Story”), blends with unusual dexterity into the sensitive, often darkly funny book by Steven Levenson, whose plays “The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin” and “The Language of Trees” were produced by the Roundabout Theater Company. (He’s also a writer for the Showtime series “Masters of Sex.”) The sensibilities of the show’s authors seem in perfect sync, and the director, Michael Greif, delineates the emotional complexities of the material with the same incisive smarts he brought to “Next to Normal,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical that “Dear Evan Hansen” most brings to mind. (Although its score, delicately orchestrated by Alex Lacamoire, is a more mellow variation on the driving pop-rock in “Normal.”