The Theatreguide.London Review
Noel Coward Theatre 2019 -
Coming from Broadway
with a long list of Tony Awards (and, in an indication of modern
theatre economics, a long list of producers more than three times the
size of the cast), this new musical actually is both very original
and very very good.
Author Steven Levenson
(mainly TV credits) and
songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (films La La Land and The
Greatest Showman) have found a new subject for a musical and explore
it with gratifying sensitivity and depth.
As someone in the show
actually says, the only people who enjoy life in an American high
school are the football players and cheerleaders. The others, however
successfully they navigate the straits of adolescence, spend much of
their teen years fearing that they are misfits, rejects, outsiders
and, most painfully, uniquely and irretrievably weird.
Hansen is the Catcher In The Rye of musicals, that reassures the lost
teenager remaining buried in all of us that we were neither
inadequate nor alone in our loneliness.
When one teenage misfit
kills himself, events conspire to convince his grieving family that
another boy – Evan – who barely knew him was in fact his best
At first just trying
awkwardly to be kind but then lured by a
family more loving and supportive than his own, Evan goes along with
the mistake, even elaborating on the stories of a friendship that
Eventually the wider high school culture and – thanks to the internet – whole world joins in a cult-like grieving for the dead boy and celebration of the imagined perfect friendship.
(It must be admitted
that Steven Levenson writes himself into a
corner here where no ending, either involving Evan confessing or
continuing the deception, could be happy, and the ending he comes up
with requires considerable fudging of morality and psychology.)
portrait of Evan's lonely unhappiness is thoroughly convincing and
sympathetic to anyone who has not completely repressed all memories
of adolescence, as is the way every other teenage character we meet
has his or her own brand of unhappiness.
And the score by Pasek
Paul is filled with songs that do exactly what the best pop music
should, by giving voice to real-life adolescents and former
adolescents who don't have the words to express their own feelings.
Waving Through A Window
evokes the feeling of being doomed to be a
perpetual outsider, while If I Could Tell Her could be the cry of
every tongue-tied and inadequate-feeling boy in love.
anthem, You Will Be Found, offers reassurance and emotional support
at exactly the right realistic level – not promising happily ever
after, but just that everyone matters – that can be heard by
unhappy young people.
I don't want to give the
impression this is a
show just for teenagers. It has been many years since I was a teenage
nerd, but song after song had that shock of recognition when someone
else says out loud what you always thought you were alone in feeling.
And there are other
strong songs as well. I can see the love duet
Only Us becoming a many-times-covered standard, while To Break In A
Glove touchingly captures an adult's fumbling attempt to connect with
The largely British cast
does full justice to the
In his West End debut
Sam Tutty should be making room
on his shelves for all the Best Newcomer awards he will be
collecting. Onstage almost uninterruptedly and at least part of
almost every song, he ably carries the emotional burden of the play,
creating a believable and sympathetic character and, not
incidentally, singing beautifully.
Fellow newcomer Lucy
might just steal a few of Tutty's awards as the girl Evan loves from
behind his shyness, who turns out to be as wounded, needy and
eventually strong as he.
There is solid support
McKinnes, Lauren Ward and Rupert Young as parents trying to
understand these strange young people in their homes, and from Doug
Colling, Jack Loxton and Nicole Raquel Dennis as teenagers each with
their own thoroughly recognisable unhappinesses.
While Danny Mefford
is credited as choreographer there are no dance numbers as such,
Mefford and director Michael Greif moving people around the stage
with an attractive and uninterrupted fluidity, while Greif must also
be credited with guiding his performers to such fully-realised
Dear Evan Hansen may not be stylistically groundbreaking as Hamilton is. But it takes the musical genre into new emotional territory and explores it with invention and sensitivity, creating a richly satisfying experience.
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