Broadway Across Canada’s Dear Evan Hansen has a unique challenge. How to present a musical that is centered on a teen struggling with social anxiety, while making that story engaging. All in all the production accomplishes this, assisted by some outstanding performances and strong musical direction.
The musical, based on the book by Steven Levenson, with music and lyrics by BenJ Pasek and Justin Paul, opens to Evan Hansen (Stephen Christopher Anthony) in his room opening up to his worries about himself and the world. His therapist suggests his he write a letter to himself outlining what good things are in store for him. His mother Heidi (Jessica E. Sherman) is desperate to connect with Evan, but is falsely cheery and at a loss on how to get through to him. She suggests that he get kids at school to sign his cast to make friends. The only thing that makes Evan happy is Zoe Murphy (Stephanie La Rochelle) whose brother Connor (Noah Kieserman) is also feeling quite lost. Her mom Cynthia (Claire Rankin) and dad Larry (John Hemphill) struggle to keep their family together without fighting. Everything changes for Evan when Connor finds Evan’s letter on the printer at school. Connor mistakenly thinks that Evan wrote it to make fun of him and storms out. Evan later find out that Connor committed suicide and Evan’s letter was in his pocket. Evan steps into a spiderweb of lies where he claims that he and Connor were great friends and brings his only other friend Jared Kleinman (Alessandro Costantini) in on it. His classmate Alana Beck (Ciara Alyse Harris) joins in because she also feels quite alone. Evan wants to tell the truth, but pretending that he had a best friend makes him feel like he belonged.
Dear Evan Hansen risks being presented as a dull narrative, but manages to be anything but. It manages to tap into the aching loneliness that Evan feels and this is expressed through the music and lyrics. The song in the beginning ‘For Forever,’ is a lovely melody.
Anthony is vocally talented and embodies Evan’s awkwardness beautifully. Sherman’s solo is a standout of the whole production, and her performance is definitely something to watch. Her interactions with Evan are so genuine and her pain as a mother is palpable. The audience can feel her intense struggle of trying to support her son by working but knowing that what he needs is for her to be around.
The cast are outstanding singers and make the stage seem full of voices. The accompanying orchestra on stage is a nice touch. Projection design by Peter Nigrini is so beautiful for the final scene but is unnecessary throughout the production. The projection is of Facebook posts and Youtube videos that fill the stage and are meant to illustrate loneliness in an online, connected world. But it only serves to distract.
Dear Evan Hansen does seem to not address the systematic barriers that the Hansens face. Heidi works a lot to support her family but it takes her away from her son who is floundering in her absence. The production illustrates a teen who is unable to cope in a modern world, but it doesn’t address the system that leaves kids like Evan behind. It also doesn’t seem to want to delve into the issues surrounding mental health and suicide and seems to avoid the darkness on these issues. The fact that Evan isn’t eaten alive when all is revealed illustrates how the musical doesn’t want to actually address the darkness of the real world.
But the musical is engaging and not dull and sheds a bit of light on mental health.
Broadway Across Canada’s Production of Dear Evan Hansen runs until to tonight. More information is available online.
The production is running a lottery for $25 tickets for every performance. More information is available here.