BWW Review: DEAR EVAN HANSEN Captivates Edmonton
Meet Evan Hansen. At 17 years old, his life is far from a party. As if fighting anxiety isn't hard enough, he struggles with the debilitating pressure to fit in at school, depends on his loving but workaholic single mother, and is plagued by sweaty palms whenever he sees his crush. Things take a harrowing turn when a classmate commits suicide, the aftermath ensnaring Evan in an intricate web of lies that threaten his already precarious reputation.
Dear Evan Hansen is a beloved Broadway smash written by Steven Levenson and scored by none other than Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. After a triumphant 2016 opening in Broadway's Music Box Theatre, the musical went on to sweep the subsequent Tony Awards, winning top honours such as Best Musical and rocketing Best Actor recipient Ben Platt to stardom. It has since captivated global audiences, expanding to Toronto and West End engagements as well as a Canada/U.S. tour.
Portraying the tormented title character is no easy feat, but Stephen Christopher Anthony makes it look effortless. His interpretation of Evan Hansen is richly nuanced, illuminating the good and bad sides of the morally grey protagonist. Anthony has a commanding stage presence despite his character's crippling awkwardness, eliciting laughs with his dorky antics and thunderous applause with modern theatre staple Waving Through a Window. From the production's humorous beginning to poignant finale, Anthony takes the audience on a tumultuous emotional journey, ultimately reminding us that no one is alone.
The supporting cast is equally dynamic. As Evan's frazzled mother Heidi, Jessica E. Sherman is a force to be reckoned with, tugging on the heartstrings as a nurse/paralegal in training desperate to provide her son both financially and emotionally. She shares a fraught but poignant chemistry with her onstage son, sharing the show's most arguably touching moments including tear-jerker So Big/So Small. Evan's crush Zoe is played with poise and sensitivity by B.C. native and Over the Rainbow finalist Stephanie La Rochelle while the protagonist's closest acquaintances are commendably portrayed by Alessandro Costantini (Jared Kleinman) and Ciara Alyse Harris (Alana Beck). Rounding out the cast are Noah Kieserman, Claire Rankin, and John Hemphill as Connor and Mr. and Mrs. Murphy.
No musical about modern high schoolers would be complete without the trappings of social media. Sure enough, the production is preceded by a cacophony of familiar beeps and buzzes along with multiple simultaneous projections of scrolling social media feeds. These aesthetics are hit-and-miss, sometimes complementing the drama at hand but distracting at others. Aside from these minor instances and the finale's nearly-blinding lighting, the show's technical aspects are overall effective in helping convey the turbulent home and high school settings.
Both a complex character study and social commentary, Dear Evan Hansen is an utterly compelling experience. It illuminates sensitive issues including suicide and depression without being preachy, presenting a complicated protagonist who is both sympathetic and at times unlikeable. It emphasizes both the good and destructive forces of social media but ultimately presents it as a platform to build community and help chip away the stigmas of mental illness. Both thought-provoking and entertaining, Dear Evan Hansen is an unforgettable musical experience.
The Broadway sensation may be found at Edmonton's Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium until February 16th.