The first national tour of Dear Evan Hansen hits Philadelphia

-Brenda Hillegas
photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Wrapping up the 2021-2022 season for the Kimmel Cultural Campus is the long awaited Dear Evan Hansen! In 2017, the musical was nominated for nine awards and won six including Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score. The musical will end its Broadway run on September 18th, so if you have yet to see this beautiful piece of theatre yet that will make you feel all the feels, the national tour might be your best chance. Dear Evan Hansen plays at the Forrest Theatre through August 28th.

If you’re like me and listen to the Broadway stations daily on various streaming services, you probably already know the words to every song in this show (the cast recorded debuted at #8 on the Billboard chart, making it the highest debut position for an original cast album since 1961). It was nice to finally put those songs into context and see where they fit. There are 16 numbers throughout the acts, written by Ardmore native, Benj Pasek, and his writing partner Justin Paul (the duo also have their original songs featured in NBC’s Smash, La La Land and The Greatest Showman, and they serve as producers on Broadway’s A Strange Loop). Dear Evan Hansen literally hits close to home for Pasek who based the story on his time at Wynnewood’s Friends’ Central School.

Evan Hansen (such a sincere performance by Anthony Norman) and Connor Murphy (Nikhil Saboo is a must see in this role) are both seniors in high school. They’re both outcasts. A letter meant to only be seen by Evan gets in the wrong hands and a devastating misunderstanding unfolds that ultimately connects the two teenagers. What lengths will someone go to in order to fit in? To feel connected to something or someone?

There are no big show-stopping numbers here with dancing and costumes. It’s not needed. The songs are such an important part of the story and the small, eight-person ensemble does enough to highlight the themes of the show. Coleen Sexton, as Heidi Hansen, is especially wonderful as she portrays a mother who feels inadequate (yet is far from it). The digital set is an important part of Dear Evan Hansen as well as it shows us how quickly words can spread in real time- both face to face and online. Social media can be a powerful tool and we see how it can be helpful (by spreading awareness about suicide and social anxiety) and harmful (how a rumor can evolve, get out of hand and ultimately seem to be the only truth).

Dear Evan Hansen is directed by Tony nominee Michael Greif who was also behind Rent and Next to Normal– two shows that are more on the heavy side with real-life, hard-hitting social issues. You will get a lot of that in DEH too, but still has many laughable moments that remind us all of being a teenager. It also shows us the darker side of being a teen and, whether we can relate to that or not, maybe we can all remember to be a little kinder and take some time to listen when we see someone who could use some help. Maybe we can remind everyone that they are not alone, no matter what they’re going through.

I’ll head back to listening to “You Will Be Found” and “Words Fail” on repeat for a bit. And you, hopefully, will see Dear Evan Hansen at the Forrest Theatre. Tickets are available here.

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