Dear Evan Hansen—On Tour and Opening the Discussion on Teen Issues

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January 3, 2020

I had the privilege of seeing Dear Evan Hansen (for the second time) last night at its San Diego debut. With subject matter dealing with bullying, mental illness, and teen suicide—set against a sparse set of social media feeds—this is definitely not your traditional musical … but it’s one you need to see.

Dear Evan Hansen opened at the Music Box Theatre on December 4, 2016, to rave reviews, with the Washington Post’s Peter Marks saying it is “one of the most remarkable shows in musical theater history.” In 2017, the show went on to win six Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

The national tour launched in October 2018 and is currently making its way across North America. Stephen Christopher Anthony (who was the understudy on Broadway) stars in the title role and Jessica Sherman, Claire Rankin, John Hemphill, Noah Kieserman, Stephanie La Rochelle, Alessandro Costantini, and Ciara Alyse Harris round out the cast.

My favorite actor in the group was by far Stephanie La Rochelle. In her role as Zoe Murphy she is very likable and her voice is sweet and pure.

As a mother, I very much identified with the two adult female roles. The actresses (Jessica Sherman and Claire Rankin) were powerful—both in voice and in acting skills. I especially felt a pull towards Sherman in her role as Evan’s mother. As a single mom, I relate to the guilt and tug to provide for my family emotionally and financially. Both times I saw the musical I found myself in tears during one of the final numbers, So Big/So Small, when she discusses the day that Evan’s father moved out:

It was a February day
When your dad came by, before going away
A U-Haul truck in the driveway
The day it was suddenly real

I told you not to come outside
But you saw that truck
And you smiled so wide
A real live truck in your driveway
We let you sit behind the wheel

Goodbye, goodbye
Now it’s just me and my little guy
And the house felt so big, and I felt so small
The house felt so big, and I felt so small

That night, I tucked you into bed
I will never forget how you sat up and said
“Is there another truck coming to our driveway?
A truck that will take mommy away”

My one possible criticism is in the set design. The social media elements are projected on the stage but the words are often blurry, cut-off, and disjointed in their projection. While they may be intended to showcase the distraction of social media, they often pulled me out of the show itself. I wondered if there could have been sharpness in the moments when the elements were frozen, with perhaps keywords or phrases that perhaps better fit the scene.

The topic of teen suicide is very much one I urge people to discuss with their children. This musical may be a way to open a dialogue with your child. I definitely urge parents of teens to view the show together!

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