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Review of Grand Musical at the Royal Alexandra Theatre

Dear Evan Hansen isa grand musical that has finally arrived in Toronto to fulfill musical lovers’great expectations. It tells a story about teenage angst, growing up and thepain of high school students of dysfunctional families.

Evan Hansen (Robert Markus), the central character is a seventeen-yearold high school student from a broken family. He is a misfit with emotionalissues and is variously described as a geek, a nerd and a loser. Above all,Evan is an accomplished liar not so much out of inborn mendacity as an awkwardsurvival tool, an emotional crutch. He is in therapy trying to establish humancontact and he is writing letters to himself (hence the title) about having agood day when he is having anything but.

Connor (San Patrick Dolan) is another student, drug-taking bully and a psychopathwho has no friends. He finds one of Evan’s letters which suggests that he andEvan are good friends. When he takes his own life, his parents find the letterand are convinced that their psychotic son actually had a friend.

The letter and the subsequent lies create an entire legend about thefriendship and the love between the two boys and especially their love of anapple orchard. The lie is buttressed by Jared (Alessandro Costantini), aclownish student who is a “family” friend of Evan. The creepy Connor becomesposthumously not only famous but heroic. Alana (Shakura Dickson) is a talkativeand high-strung student who finds a mission in establishing the Connor Foundationagain built on lies. All these teenagers are broken and most people can relateto high school anxieties or parental fears and worries.

Connor’s parents are Larry (Evan Buliung) and Cynthia (Claire Rankin),well off but unable to make contact with Connor or their daughter Zoe (StephanieLa Rochelle) or each other. Evan’s mother Heidi (Jessica Sherman) is a highlysympathetic person, a single mother struggling to meet financial needs byworking hard and trying to help her troubled son. 

The finely wrought book by Steven Levenson takes us from the painful awkwardnessand anxieties of not only Evan but also Alana, Zoe and even Jared, who despitehis braggadocio and acidic sense of humour, shows signs of anxious relationswith his parents to whom he lies as a matter of course.

The uneasy relationship of Connor’s parents descends into excruciating painas they grieve for their son’s death and latch onto Evan’s lies to findsomething positive in their son’s life and suicide.

Heidi struggles to maintain her pride and dignity amidst poverty and totake care of her son in the time left to her by long hours of work. Shermansings So Big/So Small near the end,recalling the day her husband left her alone to raise her child. She sings ofthe pain of separation, of the (unwarranted) guilt of being unable to fulfillall of Evan’s needs but most of all expressing the undiminished splendour ofmaternal love and devotion.

The performances of the cast take you in as they all appear to be thecharacters they represent rather than acting. That is as high a commendation asone can give actors.

The set by David Korins consists of a largely empty stage with numerousprojections on a black background. With the projections of Peter Nigrini, theset allows for fluidity and quick and seamless scene changes with some piecesof furniture being rolled on and off the stage as necessary. All is expertlyhandled by director Michael Greif.

The music and songs provide for some memorable highlights and someforgettable segments that serve their purpose.

And speaking of fulfilment of audience expectations, opening nightprovided the perfect example of infectious enthusiasm where the spectators weregeared up and expressed their approval at every note. Standing ovation? YouBet.


Dear Evan Hansen by Steven Levenson (book) and Benj Pasek andJustin Paul (music and lyrics) continues until June 30, 2019 at the RoyalAlexandra Theatre, 260 King St. W. Toronto, Ont.

April 6, 2019

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