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A CurtainUp London Review
Dear Evan Hansen

"Have you ever felt like nobody was there?
Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?
Have you ever felt like you could disappear?
Like you could fall, and no one would hear?"

— Evan
Dear Evan Hansen
Cast in Dear Evan Hansen
(Photo: Matthew Murphy)
It is a tremendous hit on Broadway and won six Tonys in 2017 having been nominated in nine categories. Theatre people who had seen it in New York were coming back to London with stories of how amazing it is. Dear Evan Hansen has created the biggest buzz in London since Hamilton and its ticket prices are well up to the Hamilton level without the elaborate security to prevent killings by the ticket touts. And the reasons weren't the usual ones: the spectacular productions that Broadway is famous for but the way people were able to relate to it.

If musicals are designed to engage the emotions while hearing beautiful tunes, Dear Evan Hansen ticks the boxes. Set around two dysfunctional teenagers and their parenting, it speaks to late adolescents who feel they don't fit in, in the age of social media. For details of as much of the plot as we dare tell and the complete song list, go to Elyse Sommer's review in New York here.

I think Dear Evan Hansen works because we can relate to the characters and actually like them so we care about the outcomes. It also deals with topics we may have faced, the loneliness of adolescence, the doubts about parenting and how to support your dysfunctional child, drugs, suicide and those left behind. Michael Greif's direction allows the musical to be driven by the characters and the storyline has enough depth to be credible.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score has some pop song numbers and other rousing anthems with dramatic key shifts which underline the vocal ability of the singers but sometimes striking a discordant note. Pasek and Paul's lyrics are realistic, full of clarity and the stage set has multiple drop down screens which often show the lyrics and who sings them, as if they are being typed into social media. It is hard at first hearing to identify those tunes we may remember.

The London cast, all of whom are British, probably including Laura Ward from North Carolina who is settled in London, have been chosen to make them similar to their counterparts at the Music Box Theatre NY where the show is booking to August 2020. Sam Tutty as Evan Hansen has that awkward uncommunicative personality that places him in the spectrum. He struggles even with writing the letter to himself as a part of the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy designed to improve his self-esteem and encourage a more positive outlook. The thought of conversation with strangers fills him with terror, let alone public speaking which terrifies many of us. Sam can sing brilliantly and from the chorus of sympathetic "Awhs!" behind me in the audience he is engaging the audience's emotions when Evan is faced with difficulties.

I very much liked Doug Colling as Connor, the other oddball in Evan's class. Connor's troubles are deeper and have a basis in drugs at the start of the musical with all the social rejection that goes with being a kid that is different. What this musical does underline, is just how cruel High School children can be to their class mates. We hope that viewing Dear Evan Hansen may help some see where they have been less than kind. Two other schoolmates are Nicole Raquel Dennis as Alana, who despite being sweet to everybody and well meaning finds herself without friends, and Jack Loxton as Jared, the class geek who is a whizz with the internet, again an isolated figure in real life.

Rebecca McKinnis plays Heidi Hansen, Evan's divorced mother who works as a nurse by day and who is studying to be a paralegal by night. She has too little time for her son and Evan finds Connor's family Cynthia Murphy (Lauren Ward) and Larry Murphy (Rupert Young) welcoming and hospitable. This is despite the Murphy's dysfunctional marriage. Their daughter Zoe Murphy (Lucy Anderson) appears well adjusted except that she has difficulties with her parents and brother. It is these seven people, without Connor, who show their frailties but getting support from each other drives the story.

To love this musical you probably need to leave any cynicism at home and don't go looking for stunning choreography. The stage seems full with the lighting and drop down screens but the dance is minimal. The singing is pure but there are times when you may feel you are being manipulated by the narrative.

I'm difficult to please because my best musical experiences are darker: the tunes and story line of Don Giovanni, the tragic, bitter ending of Leo Franks in Parade, the historical saga of Les Miserables, the witty lyrics and dance of West Side Story and Six, and the choreography, spectacle and rhythmic modern rap of Hamilton.

If you loved Everybody's Talking About Jamie you will probably love Dear Evan Hansen.

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Dear Evan Hansen
Book by Steven Levenson
Music and Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Directed by Michael Greif
Starring: Sam Tutty, Lucy Anderson, Rebecca McKinnis, Lauren Ward, Doug Colling, Rupert Young, Jack Loxton, Nicole Raquel Dennis,
With: Marcus Harman, Tricia Adele-Turner, David Breeds, Haydn Cox, Natalie Kassanga, Hannah Lindsey, Mark Preachey, Courtney Stapleton, Alex Thomas-Smith, James Winter
Musical Director/Conductor: Matt Smith
Music Supervisor: Alex Lacamoire
Set Designer: David Korins
Costume Design: Emily Rebholtz
Choreographer: Danny Mefford
Lighting Design: Japhy Weideman
Sound Designer: Nevin Streinberg
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 08444 482 5151
Booking to 5th May 2020
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th November 2019 at the Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London WC2N 4AU (Tube: Leicester Square.)
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Dear Evan Hansen