By Chris Heide
More than ever, contemporary society is rife with fractured and impersonal communication, a prevalence of mental health issues, and the notion that everyone feels like they do not fit in. A brilliant, powerful opus commenting on the nature and context of our digital age, Dear Evan Hansen tells the story of a young many who desperately wants a chance to fit in.
Dear Evan Hansen tells the story of the titular character, who writes a letter that was never meant to be seen. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, that private letter perpetuates a well-intentioned lie that impacts a community that has been affected by suicide (minor spoiler alert).
It is a vulnerable, coming-of-age story that depicts the desperate measures people will go to in an effort with their peers. One of the most amazing aspects of this show is that although Evan Hansen is the perpetrator of this magnanimous lie, his character is infinitely likable and relatable. He is the architype that represents every lose, nerd, and on-conformist who desperately wants to be accepted by society.
While most of the plot revolves around that lie that stems from an unexpected suicide early in the first act, Dear Evan Hansen is so much more than a limited commentary on mental health and suicide. This remarkable show touches on a plethora of contemporary topics inducing family dynamics, communication, social media and the journey of self-discovery.
The show, which won six Tony Awards in 2017, is an emotionally-wrenching and engaging journey. It is an atypically small cast for a musical; the entire show boasts just 8 characters. A great deal of the book consists of emotionally raw ballads. In any other context, musicals filled with that many ballads simply would not work. However, given this storyline, as well as the electric chemistry of the characters, this unusual structure just works.
The show is brilliantly cast. Stephen Christopher Anthony brilliantly portrays Evan Hansen. He imbues the character with pitch-perfect awkwardness, and his vocal prowess is unmatched by any other singer in the show. Maggie McKenna is also perfectly cast as Zoe, Evan’s potential love interest. McKenna boast an unusual voice her musical theater; the folksy texture of her voice is both unique and alluring. It adds an additionally interesting element to an already interesting show. To be perfectly honest, McKenna sounds more like a contestant on The Voice, but her unique vocal stylings just work.
Dear Evan Hansen is one of the most compelling musicals to have been produced in a long time. Visually, the show relies heavily on audio-visual elements designed to replicate the bombastic experiences of ever-changing social media newsfeeds. It is one of the many reasons why Dear Evan Hansen works when it should not. It is an immensely relatable, contemporary, and intimate experience designed to create an emotional connection to every single audience member.