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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Dear Evan Hansen
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.

Dear Evan 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 friend.

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 never existed.

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.)

The 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 and 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.

The show's 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 a youngster.

The largely British cast does full justice to the American story.

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 Anderson 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 from Rebecca 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 characterisations.

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.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Dear Evan Hansen - Noel Coward Theatre 2019