Dear Evan Hanson• February 28, 2023• Eccles Theater
Reviewed by Alisha Gregson
In March 2020, Dear Evan Hansen came to Eccles Theater. Unfortunately, after only a brief run of performances, the production had to cancel its tour early due to the Covid-19 shutdown. Now, 3 years later, the Tony Award-winning musical has returned to Eccles. Thousands of Utahns who previously missed out will finally get their opportunity to see the show. We were fortunate to see the production on March 4, 2020. We hoped that shows would only be pushed back a week or so. Clearly, that wasn’t to be.
February 28th was opening night, and the theater was filled with excited guests. I noticed far more teenagers in the audience than I typically see at a Broadway show. This was no surprise, as Dear Evan Hansen resonates with a younger crowd on a deeper level than most musicals. That’s not to say this is a performance that only appeals to a teenage crowd. This musical has already become a favorite among theater lovers of all ages.
The emotionally raw storyline focuses on an anxiety-filled teenage boy, whose deceitful stories both build up his confidence and weigh him down. Dear Evan Hansen covers a variety of heavy topics. Topics like suicide, mental health, grief, acceptance, and both the positive and negative impacts of social media. While the performance brought many in the audience to tears, the witty humor and quirky characters kept everyone laughing.
The modern-day setting makes Dear Evan Hansen stand out among other Broadway productions. While rarely used in other plays, modern technology, and social media were integral to the plot. Digital panels displaying text messages, emails, and social media covered the backdrop of the stage. The rest of the stage setup remained fairly simple throughout the night. Usually featuring a single bed, couch, or dinner table. The wardrobe, hair, and makeup were also very different from a typical Broadway show. The casual, everyday outfits and character appearances helped the show feel authentic and intimate.
Without over-the-top costumes and elaborate stage props, the cast of the show had the opportunity to shine. It wasn’t until the end of the night, when they all stood in line to take a bow, that I realized just how small the cast really was. With only 8 characters sharing the stage, they each had a decent amount of time in the spotlight. I was impressed with the character development. Not only with how well they were written, but how well each actor portrayed them. The characters were complicated, flawed, and relatable, with each one having their moment as both a protagonist and antagonist. Ultimately, as they became more and more vulnerable, it was impossible not to fall in love with each one of them.
At the center of the story, of course, was the anxious and awkward Evan Hansen. The very talented Anthony Norman was perfectly cast for the role. He transitioned seamlessly as his character developed from a fidgety, innocent misfit, to a more confident version of Evan. His voice was beautiful and he captivated the audience while singing some of the show’s most popular songs like “Waving Through a Window”, “You Will Be Found”, and “Words Fail”.
Heidi Hansen, Evans’s single mother, was played by Coleen Sexton. Trying to balance work, school, and being a mom, Heidi struggles with her own insecurities and shortcomings. Sexton stunned the audience with her powerful performance of “So Big / So Small”.
August Emerson played Connor, the angry troubled teen whose tragic suicide sends Evan down an unexpected path. Emerson’s portrayal of the tortured teen was flawless. After Connor’s suicide, the character returned as Evans’s inner voice, far milder than the edgy version we meet in the beginning.
Zoe Murphy, Connor’s sister, was played by Alaina Anderson. Zoe, who was also Evan’s love interest, struggled to let go of the resentment she held towards her brother even after his death. John Hemphill and Lili Thomas played Connor’s parents, Larry, and Cynthia Murphy. Each member of the Murphy family grieved differently, while the loss of Connor sent the already dysfunctional family into even more chaos. As each of their complex relationships with both Connor and Evan played out, they gave the audience some of the show’s most heartfelt scenes.
Pablo David Laucerica nailed his role as Jared Kleinman, Evans’s “family friend.” Jared, a tech geek who assists Evan in his web of lies, was the comic relief. His comedic timing and delivery were outstanding, as he continued to earn the crowd’s laughter.
Alana Beck, the bold teenage girl who asserts herself into the middle of the drama, was played by Micaela Lamas. Well-meaning, but desperate for attention, Alana will seemingly do anything to ignore her loneliness.
In both vocal performance and acting abilities, the cast was amazing. They proved their talent with each new scene and song. As much as I enjoy listening to the original cast recording, I have to say I loved listening to this cast that much more. Maybe it was just hearing them live, but it says a lot to how great this cast was. The moving music and lyrics for Dear Evan Hansen were created by talented songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Who are also known for La La Land and The Greatest Showman. Book writer Steven Levenson wrote a beautiful and emotional story, that successfully takes on some very difficult topics in a touching way.
I enjoyed every moment of Dear Evan Hansen and appreciated the many strong messages. I would highly recommend going to see Dear Evan Hansen at Eccles Theater if you get the chance.
Select tickets are still available for Dear Evan Hansen at Eccles Theater. Click here for more info!