Dear Evan Hansen London Review
I have been extolling the virtues of Dear Evan Hansen to anyone who would listen since I first caught it off-Broadway in 2016. A transfer to The Music Box earned it six Tony Awards, raised the musical’s profile and supercharged the career of originating Evan, Ben Platt. While the Grammy winning Original Cast Recording regularly tops the Billboard and Spotify charts, it has flown largely under the radar on this side of the Atlantic, save for a legion of dedicated fans. But Dear Evan Hansen has now finally arrived at London’s Noël Coward Theatre, and a whole new community of audiences get to experience this groundbreaking musical for the very first time.
High school senior, Evan Hansen, is crippled by social anxiety; even the thought of asking class mates to sign the cast on his recently broken arm fills him with dread, especially if it involves the girl he loves, Zoe Murphy. His therapist has set him the task of penning himself motivational letters, ‘Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be a good day…’. One such letter falls in to the hands of equally troubled teen, Connor, Zoe’s brother, who subsequently takes his own life. When the letter addressed to Evan is found, the family assume this is Connor’s suicide note to his best friend.
Evan is caught up in a whirlwind of lies spiralling out of control, suddenly this painfully shy teen is thrust in to the spotlight, but more importantly, becomes a source of comfort to a grieving a family. Steven Levenson’s story is filled with intriguing juxtaposition, whether it’s the contrast between Evan’s single parent family and the Murphy’s seemingly all-American wholesomeness, or the fact that Evan could be seen as both villain and hero at the same time; he chooses not to tell the truth, and that benefits him, but is his real motivation to console the family he wants to be a part of.
“Sam Tutty gives the performance of the decade”
Even to those who have listened to the soundtrack, the actual story told on stage can come as a surprise, with an astonishing impact. This is unlike most musicals in that the narrative could work completely on its own. The book does not exist to enable the score, instead they both stand shoulder to shoulder, like true friends.
Composers, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have since found notoriety in other mediums, namely La La Land and The Greatest Showman, but what came before was the score of Dear Evan Hansen, and what a powerfully evocative score it is. If raw emotion were music then it is playing nightly at the Noël Coward Theatre, songs like ‘Words Fail’ and ‘If I Could Tell Her’ leave you choking back tears, while the act one finale ‘You Will Be Found’ has become a rallying anthem around the world for anyone who feels they could just disappear.
As Evan, Sam Tutty gives the performance of the decade. Newly graduated, Tutty takes on one of the most challenging roles in theatre and makes it look like a walk in the park. His every nervous twitch, or faltering of his voice brings out the tragic loneliness and anxiety of the character, while his flawless vocals are nothing short of mesmerising. Tutty’s debut West End performance will rightly earn a place in musical theatre history.
Sam Tutty is supported by a small but accomplished cast, Lucy Anderson’s Zoe truly captures the heartache of a grieving sister caught up in discovering a brother she never really knew, and who we know never really existed. The chemistry between Anderson and Tutty is beguiling and Anderson’s solo, ‘Requiem’ is incredibly moving.
“the most monumentally important musical of a generation”
Doug Colling as Connor presents us with another of those contrasts, showing with unabashed candour how the character’s self-imposed solitude is no different to that of Evan’s, even if it manifests differently. Jack Loxton and Nicole Raquel Dennis bring some welcome humour to the otherwise traumatic story, while as the parents, Rebecca McKinnis, Lauren Ward and Rupert Young are outstanding.
Michael Greif, who also directed the original production, has succeeded in replicating the Broadway musical for the West End, and along with Peter Nigrini’s ingenious projections create a world dominated by social media that is putting immense pressure on so many people. Combine it all together, and you find yourself watching the most monumentally important musical of a generation.
As I left my seat on opening night at The Noël Coward, tears streaming down my face, I turned to the row behind where a young lady was still sobbing into a tissue. She looked up and gave me a half smile, a gesture which I returned. In that moment we both knew what the other had experienced, and the message of Dear Evan Hansen struck me with startling clarity; none of us are really alone, and perhaps this really is the musical that will help us all to be found.