Updated: 4 days ago
A few weeks ago, I wrote that 'Waitress' was one of the best musicals I'd seen in ages. But then I saw 'Dear Evan Hansen', and let's just say, I was completely blown away.
The musical revolves around teenager Evan (we saw understudy Marcus Harman), who suffers from social anxiety and, on the advice of his therapist, writes letters to himself to try to help him understand and express his feelings. He has just printed off one of these letters when he is confronted by school bully Connor Murphy (Doug Colling), who steals the letter from him.
Connor is later found dead, having committed suicide. And in his possession - Evan's letter, which people assume is from Connor and is a suicide note. Evan finds himself caught up in a web of lies, as he tries to convince people that him and Connor were actually best friends.
I am still unsure whether Evan is the good or bad guy in all of this. He lies to Connor's parents (Lauren Ward and Rupert Young are Cynthia and Larry Murphy), uses Connor's death to make himself popular at school and even uses this scenario to seduce Zoe (Connor's sister, played by Lucy Anderson). But still, it seems there is a part of Evan that wants to do the right thing. He wants to give hope to people and show them that they aren't alone. He wants to try and cheer up Cynthia and Larry by telling them their son did have some happy times.
And yet, just when you feel like you're beginning to understand his motives and you're rooting for him once again, he turns around to his mum (Rebecca McKinnis as Heidi Hansen) and accuses her of never doing anything for him, despite the fact that she is working round the clock to provide for him. He is a complicated character, and that's what makes him (and the entire play) feel so real.
The play is an emotional whirlwind. We all came out feeling dazed and exhausted, and that's testament to the power of the actors, the music and the storytelling. The songs are simply phenomenal, with Harman and Anderson hitting every note perfectly, whilst also delivering the emotion they needed. Each song has a purpose, and helps us to get a better insight into different characters.
For a musical, the cast is small (7 in total, with Jack Loxton as Jared Kleinman and Hannah Qureshi as Alana Beck completing the cast), and the staging is simple (settees, beds, dining tables). So it really is the actors driving the show - everything depends on them. Thankfully, they were more than up to the task.
'Dear Evan Hansen' closes in the West End on 22nd October (fingers crossed for a tour!) so I strongly encourage you to go and see it. You won't be disappointed. A true theatre highlight that I won't forget for a long time.
Tom Morley, September 2022