“Dear Evan Hansen” Dazzles St. Louisans

Gail Harper
abharper@lc.edu

 

The Fabulous Fox Theatre offers annual seasonal tickets, and this season theater fanatics were presented with seven shows to attend, including “Cats,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “The Band’s Visit,” and “Hamilton.” Another big hitter was “Dear Evan Hansen,” running from Oct. 22 through Nov. 3, 2019.

“Dear Evan Hansen” is heart-wrenching, raw, and emotional, and gets down to the basics of human nature — from needing to feel wanted, to the struggles of being torn between caring for your loved ones or being present, to the fundamental pain of loss. The actors traveling with the North American tour displayed these essences immaculately.

Sam Primack, who played the title role of Evan Hansen, embodied the character poignantly, showing how difficult it can be as a teenager with social anxiety to keep healthy relationships with one’s mother, oneself, a crush, and peers. His life quickly spirals from a small misunderstanding into a worldwide spotlight directed on him. How does a teenager navigate this? Evan shows us through his dynamics with the other characters.

Taking on the role of Heidi Hansen, Evan’s mother, Jessica Sherman displayed the struggles of being a single mother, being torn between financially, emotionally, and physically supporting her son, with the added weight of night school as she pursues a higher education. The tears were real, her anger was true, and everything about her performance was convincing, to say the least.

The set design was unique in a technologically evolving world — with multiple screens displayed around the stage and images projected to show where the characters were set (a garage’s exterior, a living room’s décor, a computer lab’s interior). Essentially, only the core elements of each scene were present. This design is definitely not for everybody, and may not totally resonate with traditionalists of the theater world, but the choice to display the set like this fit with the world of Evan Hansen — dulled down to the essentials, edges blurred, lights focused on his own surroundings.

The screens also often displayed an array of social media, which is a major theme in this musical: after the initial tragedy that brings Evan close to his crush and her family, Evan starts an online campaign with his family friend and school acquaintance. The campaign quickly escalates into something it wasn’t meant to be — growing drama and well-meaning folks buying into it for a week or so until they moved on.

This commentary on social media is also exhibited by an early song in the show, “Waving Through a Window,” in which Evan explores his yearning of wanting someone to notice him, but never quite getting “there.”

“Dear Evan Hansen”’s score is touching, a swell of euphony employing smooth melodies and heartbreaking words all mixing sweetly and sickeningly until the songs get stuck in your head, replaying over and over.

The dark subject matter is offset by some light comedy, but mainly with the empathy for every single one of these characters. No one is made out to be a “bad guy;” we rather see highs and lows of every character with very little unnecessary exposition.

This musical will make you confront emotions you’re not yet ready to face, put you back into the mortifying shoes of a high schooler, and make you very, very happy to be alive.

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