Quick Change Reviews - Dear Evan Hansen (Previews)
Evan Hansen isn’t easy to like. He isn’t easy to dislike, either. The lead character in the Tony Award winning musical is an unlikely choice for the star of a musical. Yet, for a show like Dear Evan Hansen, it works, and it works damn well.
The book by Steven Levenson follows the story of a high school student, Evan Hansen (Sam Tutty), who suffers with anxiety and depression. After the suicide of a fellow pupil, Conor Murphy (Doug Colling), Hansen accidentally falls into an unlikely situation of faking a series of emails and pretending to be his secret friend in order to support Murphy’s parents. In the meantime, he quickly climbs the social ladder alongside “family friend” Jared (Jack Loxton) and voice of the student body, Alana (Nicole Raquel Dennis) whilst also landing himself in a romantic position with Conor’s sister, Zoe (Lucy Anderson). Together, they set up the Conor Murphy Foundation, designed to keep his memory alive. Set to an exciting score, that dips and dives with euphoria, hope and loneliness, by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul - yep, they also did the music for The Greatest Showman - the show explore battles with mental illness, family relations, school popularity and grief.
Intertwined with the lead story, Dear Evan Hansen magnifies the fractures within family relationships. Hansen’s mother, Heidi (Rebecca McKinnis), has bought him up single highhandedly whilst working and gaining a law qualification in night classes, making her absent despite her trying. Whilst the Murphy parents, Cynthia (Lauren Ward) and Larry (Rupert Young) are seemingly the golden all-American family until they're faced with tragedy. It is in many respects, the parents that provide the most heart wrenching scenes of grief both toward and for their children as they struggle to connect and understand. Opening number, ‘Anybody Have A Map’ is filled with Monday morning breakfast table fake optimism, whilst ‘To Break In a Glove’ is punchy and sweet as Larry teaches Evan how to prepare a baseball glove. McKinnis’ delicate solo ‘So Big / So Small’ silenced the house as she recalls the day her husband left.
The staging is comprised of electronic screens used to separate characters as they message, or pass each other in the school halls. They’re backed only by the slide in bedrooms of Evan and Conor, the Murphy household’s dining table, and finally an orchard. It can often feel quite cold and empty, placing the audience at a distant, unable to see small details that allow a peek in to our character's and their lives. However, when the stage is filled with the touching and poignant dialogue of the script, you realise that no more is needed. The coolness of the staging reflects the disconnect that the internet has put between a human and their fundamental need to mourn, and the fact that it could happen to any of us, at any time.
Act one concludes with the monumental finale, 'You Will Be Found', the spine-tingling number is woven with voices of commentators sharing praise and support for sufferers of mental illness, as the screens show the development of the Conor Murphy Foundation. The stage is illuminated with baby and childhood photos of Murphy, as the company join for the first time together on stage in unity. It is powerful, it is bright, it is glorious.
Dear Evan Hansen has been subject to criticism for its portrayal of suicide and its many consequences. But, Evan is not a hero. He is a lost boy amongst lost boys and girls. Perhaps the biggest consequence would be that if Hansen is human at all, the feelings he will have felt and will feel on his own. Your relationship with him should be complex and difficult. It should not be black or white. You should have questions and unexplained answers, all of which will prove that the themes of this musical have been portrayed with power and truth. For, these series of events are not straightforward.
Star of the Show
Sam Tutty is absolutely fantastic as Evan Hansen. His awkward charisma is present from the get go; from the desperate rushed breaths in times of panic, to the hopeful gaze he gives his peers from the sidelines, and the underlying disappointment around his mother. On stage in almost every scene, you do not tire of his presence. For those two and a half hours, Tutty is all-consumed by Hansen - with his clammy hands, rambling facts about trees, and fear of talking to the pizza delivery guy. The moments that we are allowed in to his mind, where his internal monologue is mocking and wistful are absolutely golden.
Tutty’s first solo, ‘Waving Through A Window’, is the perfect introduction to our friendless protagonist. A song to express his disconnect from the world, he stands alone as he tries to capture the attention of passersby. Remaining upbeat, the number slows to a powerful bridge; “When you're falling in a forest and there's nobody around, do you ever really crash, or even make a sound?" bringing a stark reality to how Evan got his signature cast, and ends as a desperate plea for attention.
Best musical number
Dear Evan Hansen has a wicked sense of humour; from light moments of Evan apologising for apologising, to more dark and sinister lines of moral ambiguity. ‘Sincerely, Me!’ is a number that was received with whoops of laughter, as Evan and Jared construct their fake emails to show the Murphy’s. In the performance, Conor joins the stage and under a spotlight reads the emails he has supposedly sent as Jared composes them to talk about his kinks, fantasies and drug taking. The chorus is a cringe worthy, upbeat mantra of positivity. complete with a jingly melody that could belong to a cereal commercial.
Pay close attention to
There are several moments of silence that fall within the show; silences that last just a second longer than what is comfortable. These moments are perfectly placed and land exactly where they should emotionally with the audience. Such care has been put in to this musical, to ensure that it is sensitive but raw, beautiful but honest, and the result is bitter sweet.
Pulls on the heartstrings
Recent graduate, Lucy Anderson, played Zoe with outstanding grace. Throughout the story, the character goes from being the sister of the boy who killed himself, to the potential love interest, to being the lead of her own success story. Her rendition of ‘Requiem’ was delivered with power and strength, cutting to the core with emotion from a woman who did not have a good relationship with her brother. “Why should I play the grieving the girl?” she demands an answer, showing the turbulence of grief when you don’t feel the way that you’re expected to.
One to watch
From the intimacy of 'For Forever' to the cracking shell of 'Words Fail' Sam Tutty carries Dear Evan Hansen with a performance that will truly inspire audiences and stay in their hearts long after the curtain closes.
Dear Evan Hansen plays at the Noel Coward Theatre, with opening night Nov 19th.