Review: DEAR EVAN HANSEN at The Orpheum Theatre Memphis

You Will Be Found at the Orpheum Theatre

By: Dec. 02, 2022
Review: DEAR EVAN HANSEN at The Orpheum Theatre Memphis
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Dear Evan Hansen returns to delight Memphis audiences after a sold-out run in October 2019.

It is a heavy and emotional musical with stirring music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Dear Evan Hansen follows a high school senior who is dealing with social anxiety and depression who finds himself wrapped up in a tragic web of lies. It touches on sensitive topics such as teenage suicide, drugs, and the impact of social media.

The Tony-award winning musical premiered at the Arena Stage in Washington D.C in July 2015 and an Off-Broadway production at Second Stage Theatre ran from March to May of 2016. The show opened on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre in December 2016 and closed on September 18, 2022. At the 71st Tony Awards, it was nominated for nine awards and won six, including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Actor for Ben Platt.

The show opens with the title character writing a letter to himself. His therapist has assigned him the task of writing himself letters and his mother encourages him to make some new friends on his first day of his senior year by getting his arm cast signed. As the show shifts to show a glimpse of another family, we quickly learn that both of these families are broken in different ways. Cynthia Murphy, who laments about her son Connor, who is using drugs, joins in the duet "Anybody Have a Map" with Evan's mother Heidi. The number is a powerful song showing the audience that not everything is as it seems. For example, the Murphys, who live on the wealthier side of town, are not as picture-perfect as people think they are. We then see Evan interact with several students at school and we can plainly see why his mother is urging him to work through his anxiety. It's almost fate when Connor walks into an empty computer lab, with only Evan for company. After some quips back and forth, Connor offers to sign Evan's cast so they can "both pretend they have friends". Connor then finds Evan's letter, in which Evan pines for Connor's younger sister and it sends him into a rage. Shortly after, we learn that Connor has taken his own life and his parents find Evan's letter in his pocket. Trying to gain some closure from this tragedy, they ask Evan if they were friends and Evan makes up the story that they were secret friends. The lie blows up into a viral disaster. Though Evan's choices are frowned upon, the message of the show about how no one should be forgotten, is familiar and stirs our emotions.

The national tour features some incredible talent. The show is taxing both musically and emotionally, and Anthony Norman handles the challenge spectacularly as the title character. The show's main criticsms surround Evan's choices about he handles the situation he is (at first) forced into and how much of his anxiety is due to guilt about lying. It's a very interesting line to walk and Norman portrays the role with enough anxiety and unsuredness that we believe him when he sings that he never meant to make a mess of things. On the flip side, Pablo David Laucerica's character of Jared offers the comedic relief we need to briefly escape the heavy emotion. Interestingly enough, it is Jared who points out to Evan that without Connor's death, no one would know who Evan was. That statement makes audiences start to question whether Evan is truly a good character or not. He clearly profits from the tragedy and it is fairly difficult to see Evan fitting so well into Connor's place within his family.

The women of Dear Evan Hansen are truly impressive. Coleen Sexton ranges from Evan's enthusiastic cheerleader to a devastated mother throughout the show. Her number toward the end, "So Big/So Small" was definitely a moment that audiences were left breathless. Lili Thomas, who portrays Connor's mother Cynthia, is clearly brokenhearted over her son's death but we are left wondering if her decisions to be so welcoming of Evan are really the best idea. Alaina Anderson, a recent graduate, plays Zoe, who is Connor's sister and Evan's crush. I was delighted when her dulcet tones could finally be heard during the haunting number "Requium". Micaela Lamas portrays Alana, a character with both comedic relief and a deep understanding of how Connor (and ultimately Evan) felt. Her powerful belt had us cheering for her as she confronts Evan about his so-called friendship with Connor.

The men are no less impressive and it such an enjoyable cast to watch. Nikhil Saboo, who portrays Connor, is rough around the edges but has a lovely soft tone about him, especially when he becomes sort of like Evan's conscience after his death.

The show is wrapped up beautifully with the staging and Peter Nigrini's projection design. Graphic imaging is becoming more and more popular on the stage and it really helps move the story forward with constant social media and even showing set pieces, such as the inside of the Murphy's house. That along with David Korins's scenic design and Japhy Weideman's lighting design make the audience believe they are a part of the show. It is a beautiful use of technology and lighting and makes for a hauntingly beautiful image.

Dear Evan Hansen may be inappropriate for younger children but a great night out for teenagers and adults alike. Don't miss this stunning story on the Orpheum stage until December 4th.


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