This show is a triumph in exploring themes on stage which haven’t been put in the spotlight since Next to Normal in 2008. Our protagonist, Evan Hansen struggles with anxiety and through the musical we see how this mental health issue impacts his life. Even if you don’t have any personal experience of struggling with a mental health problem, it’s a thoroughly engaging show, especially as the musical delves into further relatable themes such as solitude and managing loss.
Evan Hansen, a high school student, unexpectedly finds himself linked to the suicide of one of his fellow students. Rather than confront the misunderstanding, he finds himself constructing an elaborate lie as a cover up. What initially starts off as something small, snowballs into a large movement which sweeps across Evan’s school and shakes up his life.
Since opening off-Broadway in 2016, the show has gone on to win six Tony Awards and has developed a passionate following, with some young fans waiting outside the theatre overnight at one point to secure tickets. I think what has made the show so popular is how it mirrors a lot of the experiences we have in school, the strong desire we have to belong, but might not always fit in. Especially with the current younger generation, although social media allows us to be more connected than ever, it’s also increasingly easier to feel more alone. This is conveyed by the inventive staging which projects different social media platforms onto panes of various sizes on the stage. The projections capture the lightning speed at which messages can spread and how all-consuming the internet can be.
The contemporary score beautifully expresses all the different shades and emotions packed within the show. Some of my favourite numbers being ‘You Will Be Found’ and ‘Words Fail’. The music and lyrics are by Tony- and Oscar Award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the talented duo who composed the music to the off-Broadway gem Dogfight and also lyricists behind the songs in La La Land.
Taylor Trench, previously in “Hello, Dolly!” boldly takes on the lead role, originated by Ben Platt. It’s a part which is undeniably demanding; Evan is on stage for the majority of the show and Trench sings his heart out. He perfectly embodies the twitchy, bumbling, anxious mess that Evan is with captivating sincerity.
One unexpected standout performer was Mallory Bechtel as Zoe, who has just graduated from high school and makes her Broadway debut in the role. She has such a beautiful tone of voice and delivers the song ‘Requiem’ so effortlessly.
As I left the theatre, although I had mixed emotions about Evan’s actions overall, I felt fortunate to have seen a refreshingly original musical. A West End transfer of the show for 2019 has been recently announced. I anticipate that it will connect with British audiences just as much as it has with those in New York, as long as they get the casting for the lead part right.