Review – Dear Evan Hansen, Noel Coward Theatre

Wednesday 20 November 2019

You might ask what we were doing there.

This is a show where the main characters are teenagers, who have only known a life where their umbilical is a mobile phone, whose visual focal point is a computer screen and the only social they attend is media. They and their friends – in the unlikely chance they have any – have never not known the internet.  And yes, we get the irony of what we’re using right now.

This is the show that left a like-minded, regular theater going friend across the Atlantic underwhelmed. And a show that saw a couple of friends (who saw this London production last week) describing it as full of snowflakes both on stage and in the audience – not to mention an audience full of “whoopers” – and were so relieved when an alarm went off during the interval and everyone was asked to leave the theatre as they wrongly assumed they’d receive a refund and be spared the second act.

Dear Evan Hansen won the Tony Award for Best Musical but then so did the dreary Fun Home, so that’s not a reliable measure of excellence. Then again, DEH is exactly what it says on the tin. “Dear”. With stalls seats priced up to £177.50, Expensive Evan Hansen might leave less ambiguity. How teenagers who might most appreciate and relate to this show can afford it is anyone’s guess.

So, off we went, with expectations lower than a prime ministerial trouser. And you can guess what’s coming next can’t you?

We knew little of the plot but Steven Levenson‘s clever and witty book tells a rattlingly compelling tale. Probably one of the best plots we’ve seen in a musical in a while. In fact you could just do this story as a play and forget the songs, which isn’t exactly hard to do anyway. Evan (Sam Tutty) is a loner unable to connect with people his own age and his mother (Rebecca McKinnis) is too busy to make time for him. Then something terrible happens which inadvertently leads to a huge but well-meaning deception that, as it turns in to an unstoppable lie, begins to transforms Evan’s life for the better.

The cast of just eight are pretty faultless but it is Tutty who is, quite simply, rather sensational in what must be an exhausting role of nervous ticks, social awkwardness and speed talking. He barely leaves the stage. Even more incredible since he missed most of last week’s performances due to illness. Official recognition will be his at the next Olivier Awards.

Michael Grief‘s production handles the tricky subject matter nimbly. It’s not easy to show people on their phones or the internet without inducing spectator ennui but with the assistance of David Korins busily shifting screens and Peter Nigrini‘s fidgety, blurry projections they match the nervous energy of Evan rather cleverly even if it does end up resembling the Johnson v Corbyn ITV Debate set. It also provides a most effective turn off your devices warning at the start of the show which ensured a rapt and unusually well-behaved audience. And not an unbecoming whoop to be heard. Whoop!

We were much more than very pleasantly surprised. You may gather that we didn’t find the songs from La La Land and The Greatest Showman songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, to be particularly memorable or as catchy as TGS on a first hearing and there’s only so much empowerment one can take, but they are delivered with such conviction and often blend into the dialogue without feeling like recitative that they have their moments. Stand up and take a bow “Sincerely, Me” which is both catchy and laugh out loud funny, and respect too for even attempting to write an, albeit decidedly cuttable song about breaking in a baseball glove (with shaving foam apparently – who knew? Not us) and having the admirable audacity to call it “To Break in a Glove”.

Genuflecting is due to Nevin Steingerg for his excellent sound design. Rather rarely, every word could be heard. Other shows should take heed.

Despite the dark and very serious subject matter that among other things takes in bullying, social anxiety, loneliness, grief and mental health there’s a lot of humour throughout the show which mostly, but not always, undercuts any mawkish sentimentality. If there is a message is it that that deception and lies can sometimes be beneficial if used judiciously? Dodgy.

By the end we were moved, yet not quite moved to tears. Rather surprisingly even the normally lachrymose Brent left with eyes drier than Prince Andrew’s armpits.

Worth checking out the extensive/expensive merchandise that’s available. If you’ve money to waste there’s a Dear Evan hoodie or you could break your arm and buy Evan’s T shirt and recreate the poster.

Worth a punt. The show that is, not the merchandise.

Not Oh, Dear, Oh Dear Evan Hansen at all.

Rating

 

 

2 Responses to “Review – Dear Evan Hansen, Noel Coward Theatre”

  1. Bill Says:

    I agree about the score for The Greatest Showman, but I thought the score for LA LA Land was exceptional except that the music was written by Justin Hurwitz. Pasek and Paul wrote the lyrics only. Oops!

  2. MKB Says:

    SPOILER FOLLOWS

    A spot-on review. This four-star show could aspire to be a five-star play were the music and insincere feel-good ending stripped away. With the exception of a couple of numbers, I couldn’t wait for them to end so that we could get on with the drama.

    Normally, when a show has a high ticket price, you expect to see that reflected in lavish sets, huge orchestras and big-star names. DEH has none. Only greedy producers.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s