- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Still a young man, playwright Steven Levenson is a writer and co-producer of Showtime’s steamy “Masters of Sex.” The drama has picked up Emmy and Golden Globe nominations — all by the time Mr. Levenson was 31.

Mr. Levenson will next have the world premiere of his original musical “Dear Evan Hansen,” starring Ben Platt of “Pitch Perfect” at the District’s Arena Stage Friday.

It’s a “happy coincidence” for Mr. Levenson, who first ignited his passion for playwriting during his senior year at Brown University, that his play is premiering at Arena, a theater that had a “profound impact” on him as a child.

“At Arena, I saw the most formative plays, so for me it feels like a tremendous honor to have something premiering there. I couldn’t be more excited,” Mr. Levenson, a Bethesda native, told The Washington Times.

“The reason we are doing it [at Arena] is because it’s such a wonderful theater and such a great champion of new work. The audiences in D.C. are intelligent and sophisticated. You know you’ll get that smart, in-the-know audience,” he said.

Mr. Levenson began crafting his play four years ago with “just the seeds of an idea,” working alongside Tony Award-winning director Michael Grief and songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul to create an original production.

“Dear Evan Hansen” tells the story of a 17-year-old finding his place not only in the world, but within a new surrogate family.

“From that scared, lonely person to someone who finds a place for himself in the world — Ben can really go on that journey and really hit all of those different marks in the story so skillfully and so seamlessly,” Mr. Levenson said.

“In a way, there’s a great freedom about that,” Mr. Levenson said of creating an original work. “We are not beholden to any pre-existing vision, but with that freedom comes a lot of anxiety — because we can do anything we want. That can be both freeing and terrifying”

Bringing a musical together is tricky in the first place, but Mr. Levenson is facing even more obstacles writing an original musical.

“Writing a musical in general is a challenge, but writing an original musical is that much more challenging,” he said. “Usually when I write plays, it takes a year to write something. Obviously, this has taken four times that amount of time.

Finding the “perfect” fit for the role of Evan Hansen, however, was not such a challenge. Mr. Platt, an accomplished actor from “Pitch Perfect” and “The Book of Mormon,” fulfills the vision Mr. Levenson had for the character. Mr. Platt flawlessly takes on Evan’s dynamic character, who begins the musical isolated and withdrawn, but branches out as the story unfolds.

“The moment that we did our first reading with Ben, it was obvious to all of us that we could not do this show without him, or that we really didn’t want to do the show without him,” Mr. Levenson said. “He’s so perfect for this part and has brought such a sense of humanity and humor and just such skill to the role that we just fell in love with him.”

With opening night coming up at the end of the week, Mr. Levenson is sure that the kinks of this intricate musical will continue to be worked out until the last minute.

“Musicals are so tricky and complex,” he said. “[They] push so many different things up against each other with script, music and dance.”

However, with the “terrific director and producers at Arena” and everyone “on the same page” with Mr. Levenson’s vision, opening night is sure to be a hit.

“That’s always something to be grateful for.”

if you go

WHAT: “Dear Evan Hansen

WHERE: Kreeger Theater at Arena Stage, 1101 6th St. SW, Washington, D.C., 20024

WHEN: Friday through August 23

INFO: Tickets $55 to $70 by calling 202/488-3300 or visiting Tickets.ArenaStage.org

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