Musical theatre takes on Gen Z in Dear Evan Hansen, which brings a fresh version of the teenage misfit trope to London.
The heartfelt story of a loner who accidentally goes viral has already charmed Broadway, winning six Tony awards and a Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album. The music and lyrics come courtesy of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the dream team behind La La Land and The Greatest Showman. And these soaring, soulful songs tell a timely story of isolation and unlikely salvation.
For all the hype, Dear Evan Hansen is fairly low key for a West End musical: it’s a subtle, intimate story with just eight actors and minimal choreography. The wider world beyond is conjured with a set built from suspended screens, showing a constant stream of social media messages.
The titular Evan Hansen (played by newcomer Sam Tutty) is an anxious and lonely high-school student, who has been advised by a therapist to write himself letters with positive mantras. ‘Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be a good day and here’s why…’ he writes on the first day of the new term. But when school bully Connor Murphy snatches the letter, everything changes for Evan.
Sam Tutty (Evan Hansen), Rebecca McKinnis (Heidi Hansen). Photo: Matthew Murphy
Without spoiling too much of the story, Evan tells a white lie that grows, opening up his world as it spreads. Suddenly, he’s writing himself into the spotlight, cosying up with his long-term crush and slotting into the nuclear family he never had.
Sam Tutty is remarkably confident in his West End debut, playing Evan with a squirmy shyness and a sweet but strong singing voice. He makes the adolescent awkwardness at once funny and deeply tender. He has strong support from Rebecca McKinnis as Evan’s overworked single mum, juggling worries and ambitions for her son with the guilt and devotion of parenthood.
There’s plenty of pithy comedy, especially in the silliness of an escalating lie, but the show is most striking in its unflinching honesty. It explores suicide and depression with a light but probing touch. The result is moving but never melodramatic or preachy.
Dear Evan Hansen is universally heart-warming and thought-provoking, but it’s particularly pertinent for teens and young adults whose impulse is to bottle everything up and retreat into themselves. The show zings with zeitgeisty details about a generation who grew up online, but there’s also a timelessness in the emotional arc of an outsider who finds his way in.
We left feeling uplifted – and itching to stream the soundtrack on repeat.
|What||Dear Evan Hansen, Noel Coward Theatre review|
|Where||Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4AU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
29 Oct 19 – 27 Jun 20, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and tickets|