“My heart was pounding at the end and I just couldn’t hold back the tears” - just one of the comments I hear on the way out of the Noël Coward theatre, affirming my initial thoughts that the story of Dear Evan Hansen resonates with people from all walks of life.
Following the life of a senior in high school who suffers terribly with social anxiety, the story revolves around Evan’s terrible mistake, a lie that grows out of control to the point of breaking, while tapping into the power of social media and its effects on young people along the way.
It feels as if Evan is never truly in control of his own destiny as different influencers push his secret further into the limelight. In fact, he begins to accept the lie as the truth, so much so that his mistake ends up being the making of him, until it all comes crashing down (without giving too much away).
Sam Tutty (Evan Hansen) is extraordinarily believable, forcing his angst on to me throughout. Every nervous twitch, blink, and pull on his shirt is felt – an uneasy watch for sure, but nevertheless fascinating. And let’s not forget that this is the 21-year-old’s West End debut, a quite remarkable journey from singing the musical’s songs on YouTube to powering out the score as the lead character in London – he can definitely sing too.
Waving Through A Window highlights Tutty’s brilliant vocal ability early on, and as the song suggests, describes how Evan feels, as if he’s “on the outside always looking in”. The cast move around the stage with their backs to Evan as he sings the final few lines, the perfect way to show how he is screaming inside, struggling to stay afloat, but no one can hear him.
Rebecca McKinnis (Heidi Hansen) and Lauren Ward (Cynthia Murphy) both play the roles of two mothers so well; they have said they’ve drawn from their own experiences for the show.
McKinnis can be fiery but when called upon, shows her character’s tender side to pick up the pieces. Ward plays the grief-stricken mum beautifully, while Rupert Young (Larry Murphy, Cynthia’s husband) portrays the unbreakable dad, who eventually caves in while trying to hold the family together, all of which stem from Evan’s mistake earlier in the performance.
The power of technology
The other prominent theme of course is the use of social media and technology and the responsibility and power that comes with it. Each ‘phone call’ is cleverly done on stage, with the characters looking into the audience to speak, while graphics forge part of the setting so we know exactly what is happening. Sincerely Me even has Evan and Connor (played by Doug Colling) acting out emails as they’re ‘typed’ on stage, a hilarious song which certainly takes the edge off, even if it is just for a moment.
Lauren Ward sums it all up so perfectly in her programme notes, saying: “I think the show rings really true to what children go through with the internet, and how it seeps into their lives and their psyches.” And that’s exactly right, Nicole Raquel Dennis (Alana Beck) constantly makes the niggling point that we’re all guilty of – her character always seems active online, always poses to be like someone else to get people’s attention and continues to falsify herself for others.
Having grown up with the pressures of social media myself, the musical makes its presence such a poignant element. Dear Evan Hansen is quite the spectacle, touching on important issues surrounding today’s youth. It’s funny in places, dark in others and pushes the boundaries of one teenager who can’t deal with the pain he has caused from what seems like a small error at the time. My verdict? A strong show that will get audiences talking about key issues people face today, the ironic thing, you’ll most definitely find the debate online.
Dear Evan Hansen is currently booking at the Noël Coward Theatre until 27h June 2020. You can find more information about the show and tickets at dearevanhansen.com