Typically, musicals shy away from hard-hitting issues, mostly because the last thing people dealing with heart-wrenching, real-life problems do is break into song.
This is not to say it can’t be done, it’s just the degree of difficulty is ridiculously high. That’s what makes “Dear Evan Hansen” that much more impressive in it tackles subjects like mental health and teen suicide head-on and manages to stay buoyant, life-affirming and entertaining throughout.
After winning the 2017 Tony Award for Best Musical, the touring production of “Dear Evan Hansen” has made its way to St. Louis and is playing now through Nov. 3, at The Fox Theatre.
Evan Hansen (beautifully played by Stephen Christopher Anthony) is a painfully shy and socially awkward high school senior. Evan lives with his single mother Heidi (Jessica E. Sherman), who is well-meaning but overworked. Most of the time, Evan is alone with his computer.
At school, Evan is mostly invisible as the only people who engage with him are overachieving busybody Alana (Ciara Alyse Harris) and moderately obnoxious Jared (Alessandro Costantini), a family friend who only talks to Evan so his parents will pay for his car insurance.
Evan’s life is upended when he has a run-in with the volatile and troubled Connor Murphy (Noah Kieserman). Evan becomes inexorably linked with Connor, his parents Cynthia (Claire Rankin) and Larry (John Hemphill) and his sister Zoe (Stephanie La Rochelle).
Thanks to Connor, Evan rises in the social ranks, but some questionable choices have some major consequences and Evan finds no easy path between maintaining his newfound popularity and setting the record straight.
The thing that makes “Dear Evan Hansen” so compelling is every character is both a victim of life and circumstance and a selfish actor doing varying degrees of harm to those around them.
Being a story about contemporary teenagers, social media plays a big part in the story, both for good and for ill, and digital interactions and social feeds are projected onto the stage, showing even when not online, the Internet is constantly humming in the background affecting the characters’ lives.
It’s really the story and performances that drive “Dear Evan Hansen” and fortunately both are outstanding. The songs are solid throughout, but only a couple really stand out — the clever and energetic “Sincerely, Me” and the rousing and powerful “You Will Be Found.”
This is a show that packs a wallop, a three-hankie affair, to be sure. And while there are a few quibbles, like the second act dragging a tad in the middle, it doesn’t feel emotionally manipulative or cloying. Instead, it feels honest and urgent, a testament to how easy it is to become isolated in our increasingly connected digital world.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is a rare gem and more than worth your time.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is playing now through Nov. 3, at The Fox Theatre. For tickets, call 314-534-1111 or visit metrotix.com.
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