There are certain Broadway shows that are so hyped up that by the time they reach the West End one wonders whether the London incarnation is going to be as remarkable as people across the Atlantic have been saying their production is. The songs of Dear Evan Hansen feel as though they have become established standards in musical theatre concerts in the capital for some time now (either that or your reviewer attends too many of them), and with justification.
Many of the musical numbers are wonderful to listen to, whether or not performed in the context of the show’s plotline – I’ve even heard an extract inserted into a pantomime.
Any lingering reservations in my subconscious about Dear Evan Hansen being all it’s been cracked up to be disappeared very quickly indeed once the show was underway, and having had so much exposure to the songs already, it was, if anything, good to hear them as part of a narrative. Just eight on-stage characters are required for this story, making the orchestra larger than the cast. It’s fairly plot-heavy too, which concentrates the mind for first-timers but I hasten to add proceedings are never difficult to follow.
It was said during the pre-London run of Half A Sixpence prior to its transfer to the Noël Coward Theatre that a star was born in Charlie Stemp. In the same venue three years later, another West End star is born in Sam Tutty, who takes on the title role in this production with remarkable stage presence and conviction. Hansen is an anxious teenage boy – the anxiety is there for reasons explained during the performance – and Tutty’s portrayal of him is considerably detailed. Without giving too much away, Hansen’s nervousness in certain social situations is palpable, as are his coping strategies. It also helps that Tutty’s singing voice is in fine form, as though Hansen can express himself through song in ways he can’t quite manage through the spoken word.
The whole cast are excellent, really. Hansen’s mum Heidi (Rebecca McKinnis, doing just as brilliantly here playing the part of a working-class mother to a unique teenage boy as she was in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie) is stretched to the limit, trying to balance out full-time work with full-time parenting (as if there is any other kind of parenting) and part-time study: she might as well have had ‘It’s Not Easy’ written across her forehead. Hansen’s love interest, Zoe Murphy (Lucy Anderson) doesn’t get on with her own parents, Larry (Rupert Young) and Cynthia (Lauren Ward), and neither does Zoe’s brother Connor (Doug Colling). The other two characters are Jared Kleinman (Jack Loxton) and Alana Beck (Nicole Raquel Dennis), both classmates of Hansen, and known for their technological prowess.
Modern technology is used well both in the writing and the staging of this production. In some ways the story is rather conventional – it’s not exactly the first time someone has told a lie only to find themselves telling additional lies to reinforce the first one. That said, the show does well to highlight the dangers of online activity, albeit with American unsubtlety: it is telling that there is always a greater emotional connection between characters in their ‘offline’ communications. This is a rather unusual musical addition to the West End – an entirely new show, new score and new story, not based on a motion picture or a book from a generation ago. Even more unusually, the book (Steven Levenson) is so absorbing I even momentarily found myself wondering how this production would work as a straight play.
The songs, of course, are decent, though it’s worth pointing out this is hardly a song-and-dance production. The standout musical number for me, ‘For Forever’, elements of which are repeated periodically thereafter, sees Hansen envisioning what time spent between “two friends on a perfect day” would be like. If anything, this is a show that reminds its audiences that nobody deserves to be forgotten. May Dear Evan Hansen’s sun shine bright in the West End, and (we can but hope) for forever. It’s emotionally exhausting but wholly rewarding: I’ve already booked to see it again.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The cast comprises Sam Tutty as Evan Hansen, Lucy Anderson as Zoe Murphy, Doug Colling as Connor Murphy and Marcus Harman who will play Evan Hansen at certain performances. They are joined by Rebecca McKinnis as Heidi Hansen, Lauren Ward as Cynthia Murphy, Rupert Young as Larry Murphy, Jack Loxton as Jared Kleinman, Nicole Raquel Dennis as Alana Beck as well as Tricia Adele-Turner, David Breeds, Haydn Cox, Natalie Kassanga, Hannah Lindsey, Mark Peachey, Courtney Stapleton, Alex Thomas-Smith and James Winter.
The winner of six Tony® awards including Best Musical, as well as the 2018 Grammy award for Best Musical Theatre Album, Dear Evan Hansen is directed by four-time Tony Award nominee Michael Greif, features a book by Tony award-winner Steven Levenson and a score by the Tony, Grammy and Academy Award-winning composers of The Greatest Showman and La La Land, Benj Pasek & Justin Paul.
A letter that was never meant to be seen, a lie that was never meant to be told, a life he never dreamed he could have. Evan Hansen is about to get the one thing he’s always wanted: a chance to finally fit in. Both deeply personal and profoundly contemporary, Dear Evan Hansen is a new musical about life and the way we live it.
Reuniting the original Broadway creative team for this West End production, Dear Evan Hansen is produced by Stacey Mindich and features choreography by Danny Mefford, scenic design by David Korins, projection design by Peter Nigrini, costume design by Emily Rebholz, lighting design by Japhy Weideman, sound design by Nevin Steinberg and hair design by David Brian Brown. Music supervision, orchestrations and additional arrangements are by Alex Lacamoire. Ben Cohn is the Associate Music Supervisor. Vocal arrangements and additional arrangements are by Justin Paul. Casting by Jill Green CDG. Sash Bischoff, Adam Quinn and Danny Sharron are the Associate Directors. Judith Schoenfeld is the Production Supervisor. US General Management 101 Productions, Ltd; UK General Management – Ambassador Theatre Group. Adam Speers is the UK Executive Producer.
Noël Coward Theatre
St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4AU
Performances: Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm