Concert Reviews

Theater Review: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’

On behalf of theater fans in the greater Cleveland area, THANK YOU to the entire cast and crew of the Dear Evan Hansen production for bringing me and 2,713 others a relatable, overwhelming tearjerker last night!

Making its debut in 2016, the show still feels just as punchy and relevant as ever. Every joke and scene transition was seamless to the viewer, keeping everyone suspended in a reality we didn’t want to be in. Topics pertaining to suicide, mental illness, family dynamics, and relationships are brought to the audience under stunning lights, accompanied by flattering costume design, heartfelt music, and superb acting performances.

The moment one enters the Connor Palace within Cleveland’s own prized Playhouse Square complex, you are encapsulated inside a room of decadence. The walls glow warm and golden, and you are immersed in the wonder of what’s to come. Patrons are presented with a stage of projected images displaying phone screens and text. This creative set design was brought to us by associate scenic designers Amanda Stephens and James Burns. These projected images remain a dynamic plot moving device changing and moving continuously throughout the entire show. This set accompanied by creative bold and beautiful lighting design was brought to life by associate lighting designer Ken Wills.

Anthony Norman impressively portrayed the show’s titular character role, Evan Hansen as awkward, anxious, and insecure. Although these characteristics have negative connotations and hinder Evan’s life greatly, these traits make him loveable and relatable. From his choice of expressive mannerisms to palpable discomfort in every situation he enters, Norman portrays Evan immediately as an underdog as he effortlessly transitions from song to dialogue; back into song, showing the audience that his character does, in fact, have a great deal of situational awareness.

Evan’s primary issue of lacking the confidence and courage to seek his purpose and grow into the person he is meant to be (Putting himself first) is shows throughout the show.

Coleen Sexton, cast as Heidi Hansen, is then introduced to the stage. She plays a hyperactive, overbearing (but caring) mother of Evan. Their communication is centered around Evan’s well-being and the social challenges he faces. Sexton finds herself stripped on stage when fully committing to Heidi’s troubled persona. Vulnerable and fragile, Hedi attempts to bring her son out of his shell and adjust his mindset to a more positive one. Although, Heidi pushes much too hard, projecting her problems and shortcomings onto Evan. We can see this during songs like “Anybody Have a Map?,” a stunning and emotional performance from Sexton and her duet partner Lili Thomas (playing Cynthia Murphy).

The show moves a mile a minute, cycling through various interactions between Evan and the people around him… or directly into him in the case of Connor Murphy (played by August Emerson). This character is a troubled reclusive teenager with an aggressively unlikable demeanor. His first introduction to the audience is him running directly into Evan on their first day back to school. Connor’s part is limited, but with each moment he is on stage, Emerson perfectly embodies and portrays a character dealing with severe mental illness and emotional turmoil. Although Connor’s character is the leading antagonist in Evan’s life, Connor and Evan are in relatively similar situations. They both undergo the torment of a complicated and dysfunctional home life, causing them immense inner turmoil and external consequences. 

One of the most prominent recurring melodies of the show, stemming from the track “Waving Through a Window”, was incredibly performed by the live orchestra, placed above the stage in the rafters of the theater. Each song, no matter how somber, retained an easy listening sound and flow, never dragging in the mud thanks to the music director, conductor and keyboardist Garret Healey and the rest of the musicians!

Vocally challenging, the chords and tempo support bold and profound lyrical confessions from each character. This score even takes the time to incorporate its sound into situational moments within the show, adding thematic auditory cues to each scene. The well-balanced mix throughout the house only enhanced the musical experience.

The love interest, Zoe Murphy (played by Alaina Anderson) is then introduced as an integral part of the story. She is shown as Evan’s one glimmer of joy, as he is undeniably attracted to her. In the drama, she is the sister of Connor Murphy, Evans’ school bully. Zoe is a strong and caring girl, having the right values but little support. Anderson does a fantastic job at giving Zoe life and authenticity on stage, seeming real and understanding of the situations around her. Still emotional and struggling with her family and recent traumatic events, she has a lot to overcome throughout this story.

The number “To Break in a Glove” beautifully sung by Larry Murphy (played by John Hemphill), was a highlight for this reviewer! The way Hemphill was able to represent a father figure’s role and attitude through his character was heartwarming to the entire audience. “Words Fail”, the third to last song in the production sung by Evan was another high point of the night. This gut-wrenching solo brings nearly everyone in attendance to tears with a lyrically raw intensity at the climax of the story. Evan’s belted notes resonate with the characters and the audience as he reveals his truth.

Dear Evan Hansen is an entertaining, overwhelming, relatable, and modern masterpiece on the taboo dialogue of mental health and its effects on people and the community. Raising awareness was the goal and they have done so masterfully. The show encapsulates the moments in time when things are hard and one is doubtful if it can get better. The show does not sugarcoat or glamorize these situations, rather it chose to shine a light on how common and realistic these things are to happen to every single one of us at some point in life.

It was able to personally move me to the point of many tears and a handful of laughs. Never meandering, the story told itself through an excellent performing cast and great direction from the executive director Anna Pitera DeVito.

Dear Evan Hansen runs at Connor Palace @ Playhouse Square through Sunday, May 21! Complete show and ticket information can be found on our calendar: RIGHT HERE!

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