REVIEW: DEAR EVAN HANSEN @ THE NOËL COWARD THEATRE
🎭 Dear Evan Hansen
📍 Noël Coward Theatre, 85-88 St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4AP
🗓 Friday 24th June 2022
THIS WAS AN AMAZING SHOW & HERE'S WHY...
This show has been on my radar for a while and after it was announced that it would be closing, I made sure I went to see it on my latest visit to the West End and I'm so glad I did.
I knew a few of the songs already and thought I had a basic understanding of what the show was about. Turns out my understanding was more basic than I thought! This show completely blew my mind and it isn't scared to tackle harsh subjects such as mental health, drug use and suicide.
It also examines the question of whether a lie that helps a grieving family is a bad thing or not and shows how quickly a little white lie can get out of hand and blow up into something much bigger and significant. Even when the lie is exposed, it's acknowledged how much the characters needed the lie to help them through the story.
The production is cleverly staged and creatively gets around the constraints of the fact that a lot of modern day interactions happen via phone calls, video calls and social media.
Sam Tutty takes on the title role of Evan Hansen and it's as if the role was written just for him. The show opens with Evan writing a letter to himself which starts 'Dear Evan Hansen, today's going to be a good day and here's why'. This is to aid him with his social anxiety issues. Tutty portrays these characteristics with a unique sensitivity and believability which immediately draws you into his story. Because of his character, he talks very fast but has incredible diction and the audience never misses the story or the intent of his words. His performances of songs such as Waving Through a Window and You Will Be Found are breathtaking and emotional in equal measures.
Towards the end when Evans attempted suicide was revealed, it was as if I had been punched in the gut. I felt so connected with the character that I felt sick to the stomach at the mention of this. This is a testament to just how good Tutty was in this role and it's no surprise to learn that he has numerous awards for his portrayal of Evan Hansen including the Laurence Olivier Award and What's On Stage Award for Best Actor in a Musical and The Stage Debut Award for Best West End Debut Performer. I'm sure he's going to have a long career in the West End.
This is surely a breakthrough role for Tutty. The way he portrays his characters anxieties and the effects the lies have on him when they get out of control is sensational.
Evan's mum Heidi was portrayed by Rebecca McKinnis. Heidi struggles to juggle her maternal responsibilities to Evan and her career. Her realisation about what her son has been going through is heartbreaking and you can really feel her pain. She had a very powerful singing voice, which at times reminded me of Alanis Morisette.
When things start to unravel towards the end and Heidi feels as if she's failed as a parent, Mckinnis plays her part with raw grit and emotion that makes you want to give her a hug and tell her that everything will be okay, especially during her performance of So Big/So Small.
The most tragic character is Connor Murphy. Connor is a drop out and bully who has drug issues and is played by Doug Colling. Connor commits suicide early on, although he appears throughout the production. As with Tutty, Colling completely nails his character.
Connor's parents Cynthia and Larry were brought emotionally to life by Lauren Ward and Rupert Young. Due to a misunderstanding, they believe that Connor and Evan were best friends and they come to look at Evan almost as a replacement for their son and a connection to the best side of him. Evan comes to look at them as the family he wishes he was part of and they become mutually, perhaps unhealthily, reliant on each other.
Cynthia is a very different parent to Heidi and has a much more privileged lifestyle, although there are similarities between the two. I'm sure that every parent in the audience could empathise with them when they sang Anybody Have a Map together. This song talks about the struggles of trying to understand and connect with your children.
Connor has a sister called Zoe. Played by Lucy Anderson, Zoe struggles with working out her feelings following the death of her brother and slowly falls for Evan. She puts on a hard outer shell but you get to see underneath this and there is a lot more to her than first meets the eye. Anderson's rendition of Only Us with Tutty shows off a beautiful singing voice. The final interaction between the two characters is played out with a heartfelt love.
When Evan sings If I Could Tell Her to Zoe, he's getting out all his feelings for her under the guise that they are things her brother had said about her. This heartwarming to witness and acted brilliantly.
For all the hard hitting moments throughout this show, there are also some laugh out load moments too. Many of these came from the character Jared. Played by Jack Loxton, Jared is the much needed comic relief which stopped me from becoming an emotional wreck. Loxton performed Sincerely, Me alongside Tutty and Colling with perfect comic timing. He is also able to play the other side of his character, where he feels betrayed and cast aside, with great believability.
The final character is Alana, who at this performance was played by Samantha Mbolekwa (understudy). Alana, like Evan and Connor, is an outcast at school. She is probably the smallest character in terms of stage time, but is just as important to the story as Evan himself. She is the one who questions the escalating lies and she is a clever but lonely girl who finds a purpose in the aftermath of Connor's suicide.
The rollercoaster of emotions I felt as an audience member was unrivalled in any production I have ever seen. Although I was sat in the circle, I felt like I was right in the centre of the action and felt every word and emotion as if I was living through it myself. Even in an immersive theatre experience, I have never felt so connected to the characters and the story being told.
It takes a lot for a show to hit me emotionally and I walked into the theatre that night completely unprepared for what I was about to experience.
It's hard to believe that this show will be closing as it feels that is such an important story to be told. I really hope that this production will go out on tour to reach even more people. Just believe me when I say that if you go to see this show, it will be wise to invest in some tissues.
The shows final performance at the Noël Coward Theatre is on 22nd October. I bought my ticket on the day via the TodayTix app, or you can book in advance at www.dearevanhansen.com.
All views are my own & I pride myself on being honest & free from influence,