On boyhood, mental health and self-discovery in a disconnected world.
A little white lie that mushrooms out of control is at the core of Dear Evan Hansen, the 6-time Tony Award winning musical now booking in London’s West End**. However, it’s not just about that lie but all the other little lies that we tell ourselves to make it through the day.
Evan Hansen is a clammy-handed high schooler about to embark on another school year. He suffers from anxiety and has been assigned by his psychotherapist to write letters to himself as a way of bolstering his self-esteem. When one of these letters gets into the wrong hands, it sets off a chain of events that turns Evan into a viral sensation. Soon, Evan has everything he’s fantasised about — popularity, purpose, a loving family environment, the girl of his dreams — within his grasp. But at what cost and who will pay the price?
From the writers of La La Land and The Greatest Showman, Dear Evan Hansen is a tale about misfits and the pain of being misunderstood. The lead role is played to perfection by Sam Tutty, complete with voice cracks and nervous tics. From his opening song, our hearts go out to Evan who is so desperate to be seen and heard, yet terrified of his own shadow. We learn of his absent father and his tricky relationship with a mother who has to work/study round the clock. We root for Evan, even as he gets tangled in his own deception… because it’s coming from a place of love.
The twin forces of love and loss pulsing through this musical are what make Dear Evan Hansen so powerful. There are elements of high school comedy, particularly in the joshing between Evan and his wise-ass conspirator Jared. Mostly though, it’s an intimate study of family relationships and bereavement. How we piece ourselves together after the worst happens. How we find grace for those around us and for our own shortcomings.
It’s also a study of boyhood and the pressures of being (or raising) an adolescent male. Unable to slot neatly into society, ‘loser’ Evan and ‘bad boy’ Connor are flip sides of the same awkward coin. The show’s themes are teased out beautifully in its musical numbers: from Evan’s shy attempts at romance (If I Could Tell Her), to the parents trying to make sense of kids who can’t make sense of themselves (Anybody Have a Map?, Requiem).
The high note is undoubtedly You Will Be Found, a gospel-infused song that’s become a rallying cry for anyone who’s ever felt lost or alone. In other words, all of us.
Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found
(from #YouWillBeFound – Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack)
I watched it with the 13-year-old who was engaged throughout, even though it was a little advanced for his years. Dear Evan Hansen is open to ages 12+ but I’d say it’s best suited to kids 15 and older. Still, it was lovely to watch it with my boy. There was a point when Evan’s mum was singing her heart out and Jed placed his head on my shoulder and I could hardly hold back the tears.
Perfectly cast and full of memorable performances, Dear Evan Hansen is an emotional experience from start to finish. I left with a song in my spirit, a lump in my throat, and a strong desire to hug my 16-year-old. Highly recommend. Take tissues.
Dear Evan Hansen is at Noël Coward Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4AU (Leicester Square tube/Charing Cross tube/rail).Suitable for ages 12+. Shows at 7.30pm (Mon-Sat) & 2.30pm (Wed & Sat); from £52.50-£152.50 (eve) or £35-£127.50 (matinees) (until Oct 22, 2022)
**press tickets, all opinions strictly my own