(seen at the afternoon performance on 23rd November 2019).
American high schools are a never-ending source of musical theatre stories. This
latest is easily the most modern, mixing "social media" with established high
school society and current parenting situations and trends into the story of how
one socially awkward loner changes the world via some less than truthful stories
backed up with faked email.
This show, the monkey suspects, works best if the viewer is either going through
this period themselves, has recent memory (i.e. is under around 30 and of a time
when not having social media is abnormal) or has contact with that age-group and
thus understands that world.
To the monkey, with none of the above, the entire thing was rather venial and
vacuous. It had to make enormous leaps of understanding to accept that for the
generation depicted their way of dealing with suicide of a class-mate is (to
elderly monkey eyes) superficial, artificial and often tasteless. To the young
people of course it was as meaningful as the way their elders deal with things.
That's fine, settled, the monkey can move on and judge the show on those terms,
rather than write a less than understanding 2 star review.
It's a long set-up, and nothing much happens for the first 30 minutes that
hasn't been seen (and sometimes done better) before - indeed "Grease" takes a
single song. Things kick into gear with the mistaken identity of a letter, and
until the final meandering 15 minutes (what, no outrage?) wend a reasonably
interesting way with superficial glances at friendship, attraction, time-poor
parenting and emotional literacy.
A couple of songs "You Will Be Found" and "Words Fail" give the show a lift, and
neither music nor lyric are less than serviceable.
The young (often debut) cast do enough. Marcus Harman is a disturbed Evan, with
a strong voice and arc able to play both shy and later confidence. Friend (for
pay) Jared (Jack Loxton) is a gross creation, self-deceptive and recognisable.
Fellow misfit Alana (Nicole Raquel Dennis) captures perfectly everything the
older generation may find wrong with the new one - her credibility of character
remarkable. Strong work too from Zoe (Lucy Anderson) in an under-written "sister
of the deceased" / "school belle" role that she breaks out of cliché.
Deceased brother Connor (Doug Colling) also gets some strong scenes, a capable
spectre at his own feast.
The adults, Hansen's mother Heidi (Rebecca McKinnis), Zoe and Connor's warring
ones Cynthia (Lauren Ward) and Larry (Rupert Young) are uniformly excellent,
again given small roles and often little real presence or gravitas by the script
- they excel vocally when required.
A busy set, mostly social media projections on screens and a slightly low-tech
forest provide a cyberspace nihilism which fits the show's mood. As an insight
into how a new generation thinks, feels and reacts, Dear Evan Hansen hits the
spot. As an evening's entertainment for that generation, it should do as well.
For those older and unwilling to connect or make the effort to bridge the gap,
there's better evenings to be had. Nowhere near the impact of "Everybody's
Talking About Jamie" for the monkey, but it can understand the show's cult
following among those who will be "at home" with it all.