I now understand so well why Dear Evan Hansen won the Tony a few years ago. What a journey this gem of a show brings the audience on. Steven Levenson wrote an emotionally fierce book which is deeply moving and full of heart.
The story centers around Evan Hansen, a peculiar teenager who has some tics, a fair amount of anxiety, sweaty hands and absolutely no friends, save a family friend who is forced to be nice to him. He is a sensitive boy who is in love with Zoe but can’t muster up the courage to express his feelings to her. His dad ditched the family when he was seven and his mom works long hours and goes to night school which leaves Evan largely alone. His mom gets him to talk to a therapist and the therapist gives him an exercise to work on at home, writing letters to himself. One such letter gets into the hands of Zoe’s bullying brother Connor and that’s when everything starts to go wrong but for a time right in Evan’s world.
The script gives the cast ample room to have robust conversations about important topics. The pathos is equally matched with humour. The characters were all so appealing flushed out. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s dynamic lyrics and score exquisitely complement this dynamic story. It was toe tapping goodness with several servings of full body chills.
Often the focus in musicals is so much with the singing that the acting can suffer terribly. That was definitely not the case here. I was so invested with these characters. The younger cast members playing the teens were across the board top notch. Stephanie La Rochelle as the confused little sister Zoe, Alessandro Costantini playing the wise cracking shit disturber Jared, Sean Patrick Dolan as the brooding Connor and Shakura Dickson as the nerdy, keener Alana. Jessica Sherman is powerful as Heidi, Evan’s mom. Her number So Big/So Small was sensational. Claire Rankin and Evan Buliung gave grounded performances as the Murphys.
Then there is Robert Markus who is something beyond. Markus plays Evan to perfection. He fully embodies the tics and quirks of an uncomfortable teen and tells the story with such grace, it was truly riveting. I ached for this character. And his voice, his voice had so much depth and complexity. I don’t know that there are enough descriptors available to describe it but he left me breathless. What a performance.
Michael Greif directs this show flawlessly. There is not a misstep or a missed moment. Peter Nigrini’s projection design was fabulous, using tweets, posts and pictures with sentences and words floating over the stage. Japhy Weideman’s striking lighting design pairs perfectly with the set and projections. The impressive live orchestra perched high above the stage and led by Alex Lacamoire offered an interesting visual element.
This is a show I could see over and over and never grow tire of it. Don’t miss this moving, miraculous piece of artistry.