Update: Due to the coronavirus closure, the Eccles Theater was closed, making Dear Evan Hansen‘s last performance in Utah on March 11.
SALT LAKE CITY — After winning six 2017 Tony awards including Best Musical and the 2018 Grammy award for Best Musical Theater Album, the critically acclaimed Dear Evan Hansen has made its way to Salt Lake City. The highly anticipated Broadway Across America touring show, currently playing at the Eccles Theater, is a powerhouse production. Directed by Michael Greif, with a book by Steven Levenson and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (The Greatest Showman, La La Land), the contemporary musical showcases a modern world that is profoundly relatable and moving.
Evan Hansen (Stephen Christopher Anthony) is a socially awkward teenager who longs for connection. At his therapist’s request, Evan writes a letter to himself to explore his feelings. After an encounter in the hallway with fellow estranged classmate, Connor (Noah Kieserman), Evan’s printed letter goes missing. Days later, Evan is approached by Connor’s parents (John Hemphil and Claire Rankin) who tell him that Connor died by suicide. Connor’s parents found the letter and believe it to be a suicide note addressed to Evan. In a compromised situation, Evan goes along with the lie acquiescing with Connor’s parents. This sets in motion a story that quickly spirals out of control leading to a fundraising campaign in Connor’s name. As Evan becomes closer to Connor’s family, he is sucked deeper into the falsehood and is forced to evaluate his life and who he is.
As Evan Hansen, Anthony was superb. He portrayed the character’s social anxiety and nervous nature well, speaking fast with an air of timidity. I loved Anthony’s musical numbers where he was able to be more expressive and at times, remarkably vulnerable. He sang with such beautiful ease, often wiping away tears from his face. Anthony’s performances were incredibly emotional while his vocals remained consistently strong and precise. I appreciated that even though Evan Hansen is a deeply emotional character, Anthony was able to bring some humor to the role as well.
Equally as talented was Jessica E. Sherman as Heidi Hansen, Evan’s mother. Sherman portrayed the hardships of an overworked single mother just trying to get by, providing for her family while also finding time to spend with her son. Along with Anthony, Sherman gave intense emotional performances with a voice to back her up completely. My favorite musical number in the show was the driving, “Good for You,” where Heidi began expressing her own anger. I also appreciated the more tender moments shared between her and Evan, particularly in the musical number, “So Big / So Small.” Anthony and Sherman shared a palpable chemistry, something absolutely vital for these characters to be so affecting.
Lastly, Stephanie La Rochelle as Zoe Murphey, Connor’s sister and Evan’s love interest, also had a beautiful voice and was emotive in her role. In her main number, “Requiem,” I felt especially moved by her and her characters’ struggles. As Zoe’s parents later join in, I was stuck by the grieving family and how they were all grieving in their own way, struggling to connect with each other during this difficult time in their lives. The entire cast excelled at this, playing their multi-dimensional characters to emphasize their own separate but similar hardships, regardless of age or gender.
I was impressed by how the scenic design by David Korins, projection design by Peter Nigrini, and lighting design by Japhy Weideman all came together to create a virtual world onstage. There is a strong social media emphasis, with a plethora of screens showing various platforms, newsfeeds, and web pages on an often otherwise dark stage. It is clear the designers are depicting how the characters are constantly flooded by online influences and information, highlighting the modern world we live in. I also enjoyed the spotlights and dramatic lighting in big numbers like, “Waving through a Window,” which matched the choreography by Danny Mefford perfectly. Combined with the masterful music direction by Garret Healey, these numbers were standout spectacles.
Despite the obviously heavy subject matter, the themes that resonate in Dear Evan Hansen are powerful and inclusive. It is incredibly easy to relate to the characters onstage. Everyone at times has felt alone, lonely, not seen and sometimes beyond their breaking point. Knowing that these are universal feelings truly does mean that “you are not alone.” As the characters deal with loss and as they work on building their self-worth, there is hope and comfort knowing that people heal and grow. This production of Dear Evan Hansen helps me remember that “no one deserves to be forgotten.”