Name: Dear Evan Hansen
Location: London – Noel Coward Theatre
Year: January 2020
Finally after over a year of waiting I finally got to see Dear Evan Hansen on the big stage. The musical has won a Tony award for tackling critical and significant themes of depression, anxiety, social media and grieving. There was not one dry in the house when we all stood up to applaud, with these themes mixed with the emotional, outstanding vocal performances from Sam Tutty and the rest of the cast.
The soundtrack is artistically created by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul – who has already delivered us the beautifully addictive La La Land and Greatest Showman soundtracks. Dear Evan Hansen’s music doesn’t disappoint giving us powerful raw emotion, containing enough piercing numbers to get the tears flowing. The subject manner of the musical is relevant to modern youth with mental health issues seen as becoming more normal, how will London’s audience react to the dark undertone of the whole show?
The musical focuses on a high schooler named Evan (Sam Tutty). He has no real friends and is in therapy and pills for anxiety. He lives at home with his struggling single mother (Rebecca McKinnis), juggling work, classes and spending time with her son. When fellow student Connor Murphy (Doug Colling) kills himself, Evan accidentally finds himself posing as his secret best friend. Connor’s family including his sister Zoe Murphy (Lucy Anderson), the out-of-his-league love interest for Evan, welcome Evan into their home to learn more about his memories with Connor. Of course these memories and stories are all false, and Evan finds himself struggling to keep up with the lies, both mentally and physically. It all escalates extremely quickly when Evan makes a speech at a memorial assembly which thrusts him into becoming an online figurehead to support people with anxiety, depression, mental health issues and suicide. How long can Evan keep up the charade, especially under the spotlight of his followers?
The musical numbers connects and engages with the real world addressing such urgent and compelling themes. The musical is based off the Steven Levenson’s book but has thrown it into an even more modern era accessing social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This is artistically shown with the staging of the show. As you look at the stage you can see social media feeds connecting the audience to the virtual world of Dear Evan Hansen. I believe this was a stimulating and influential way to connect the audience to the struggles youth have with online personas, bullying and loneliness.
The sympathy for Evan is hard during the musical. You start off feeling completely compassionate and caring for him as he struggles through high school and feels like he is completely invisible. Then you start feeling sorry for the Murphy family, falling for all of Evan’s lies so he can feel included, feeling normal. It was a hard choice for Evan to do but ultimately I found myself crying my eyes out for him. Tutty’s performance was extremely raw and made me believe that Evan didn’t mean any harm to anyone, just wanted to help the Murphy’s through the difficult time and also feel wanted for once.
There is one thing that stands out for Dear Evan Hansen. It concentrates and features on real and virtual relationships and problems, sensationalising the mixture and differences between agony and grief of parents and how teenagers grieve differently with all their angst. The emotion is worn on their sleeves, giving us the true feelings and reactions as honest and as raw as possible.
The tragedy and struggles throughout the musical isn’t unique. With more and more young adults and children feeling under pressure and struggling with their own mental health this musical focuses on comfort. The message of that you’re not alone, that no is alone, is powerful. Evan made a community of support for other people because of what happened to Connor. Maybe it was for the wrong reasons to begin with, but Evan needed that support too. His lies showed the cast and the audience that it’s ok to feel different, that there is no normal. The idea of normality is changed so much over the last couple of years, and I myself have realised there’s people out there that will listen, will care. It’s important to talk about mental health and this musical is a great way to start that discussion.