BWW Review: Robert Markus Triumphs in DEAR EVAN HANSEN
Pull out your kleenex now. The international premiere of DEAR EVAN HANSEN, written by songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, with a book by Steven Levenson, has arrived in Toronto. The Grammy and Tony Award-winning musical comes to life at Mirvish's Royal Alex Theatre with an impressive, all-Canadian cast. The magnetic energy created by this cast is so perfectly crafted, you'll be reduced to tears more than once.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN tells the story of Evan Hansen (Robert Markus), a high schooler riddled with anxiety and low self-esteem. He feels not only completely disconnected from the rest of the world, but completely alone. Evan's mother, Heidi (Jessica Sherman), encourages Evan to write letters to himself - an assignment suggested to him by his therapist. This very personal letter ends up in the hands of Connor Murphy (Sean Patrick Dolan), who later that day takes his own life. When Connor's parents find Evan's letter, addressed to Evan, they assume the two were best friends and, in an effort to survive his crippling anxiety in the situation, Evan quickly fabricates a friendship with Connor. Although Evan's story is completely false, it begins to bring him real connections with the people around him - so the lies continue and quickly snowball out of control.
The creative team has done an outstanding job at birthing a show that feels sincerely modern, through and through. From the pop-infused Broadway numbers (you'll leave the show humming the tunes), to the sleek minimalist set, to the imaginative projections that explode across the stage - DEAR EVAN HANSEN is a marvel of theatrical design.
It's amazing when lighting and direction are so in sync, they move you emotionally. There's a moment in Evan's first power ballad, "Waving Through a Window," where his disconnectedness with the world around him is communicated by the other characters circling him, backs turned, with small circles of light surrounding each of them. They're all there, so close, but so inaccessible. Later, in "You Will Be Found," the same stage blocking is employed, but this time, the cast is facing Evan, welcoming him into their arms. It's a truly beautiful moment where all of the elements come together to shake your core. This juxtaposition is just one of the poignant illustrations for why Evan continued to lie about his relationship with Connor.
After Ben Platt's iconic, Tony Award-winning portrayal of Evan Hansen on Broadway, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the leading role - or so I thought. Robert Markus brings such vibrant energy to the role, infusing it with quick, witty humour - and his vocals are second-to-none. When the score calls for a soft falsetto, Markus delivers with a heavenly timbre. When the score calls for a powerful belt, Markus glides into each note with complete ease. Evan is a notoriously difficult sing, but Markus is approaching the role with a healthy technique, that will ensure that he can sing the part for a long time to come.
As Heidi Hansen, Jessica Sherman opens the tear floodgates with her powerful delivery of "So Big/So Small". If I had to choose from a handful of standout moments in the show, this was definitely one of them. The way Sherman's voice soars on the line, "a million different ways," near the end of the song is absolutely jaw-dropping.
Evan Buliung is brilliant at conveying the deep sadness boiling under Larry Murphy's relatively calm disposition. When he finally breaks down in "You Will Be Found," falling to his knees centre stage, it is devastating. Zoe Murphy, who becomes Evan's love interest, is played by Stephanie La Rochelle with sincere purity. La Rochelle is most impressive when she showcases her controlled belt, like at the end of "Requiem". While Claire Rankin's portrayal of Cynthia Murphy can be described as theatrical, Dolan's portrayal of Conor Murphy could have incorporated more drama.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN is a musical with something for everyone. We've all felt alone at some point in our lives, so it's not hard to connect to the show's general themes of wanting to belong and feel noticed. The music is fresh and catchy, the staging is exciting, the technology is astounding, and the performances will take your breath away. DEAR EVAN HANSEN is one show that will stay with you for forever.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN runs through June 30, 2019 at Mirvish's Royal Alexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W., Toronto, ON.
For more info and to buy tickets, visit https://www.mirvish.com/shows/dear-evan-hansen
Photo credit: Matthew Murphy