By Mary Boyle
This season of Broadway at the Marcus Center features an incredible line-up of Tony Award-winning musicals, including the classic My Fair Lady, 90's favorites The Lion King and Miss Saigon, and the past three year's big winners: 2016's Hamilton, 2018's The Band's Visit, and they kick it all of with the 2017 Tony Award-winning smash hit, Dear Evan Hansen, which runs through September 29th at the Marcus Center's Uihlein Hall.
Evan Hansen (Stephen Christopher Anthony) is about to start his senior year of high school, but he's not excited. Thus far, Evan hasn't fit in well at school; like many kids his age, he suffers from social anxiety, which he is medicated for. His hardworking single mother, Heidi (Jessica E. Sherman), encourages Evan to bring a Sharpie and use the cast on his recently broken arm as the perfect ice-breaker to meet new friends and get the year off to a good start, as well as reminding him to write the encouraging letters to himself that his therapist recommended. The letters begin, "Dear Evan Hansen."
Unfortunately, the day does not go well: the only person who signs Evan's cast is the school outcast, Connor Murphy (Noah Kieserman), who finds and takes Evan's letter to himself, in which Evan mentions Connor's sister Zoe (Stephanie La Rochelle) as one of the only highlights of school. Just when Evan thinks Connor Murphy is going to make his life worse, he's called to the school office where Connor's parents, Larry and Cynthia (John Hemphill, Claire Rankin), are waiting to meet him: Evan's letter was found in Connor's pocket after he committed suicide, and they are convinced that Connor not only wrote it to Evan, but that Evan surely was their troubled son's only friend. Utterly alarmed and unable to crush the hopes of two grieving parents, Evan does nothing to discourage their mistaken belief. Before long, one little lie leads to another, as Evan discovers that being "Connor's best friend" might be the best thing that could ever happen to him.
The creative team of Dear Evan Hansen has quite an impressive pedigree, with book by Tony Award-winner Steven Levenson and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who were the award-winning team from the films La La Land and The Greatest Showman. Director Michael Greif is known for his work on Rent and Next to Normal on Broadway, and Choreographer Danny Mefford also holds the Tony Award for his work on Fun Home. Music Supervisor and Orchestrator Alex Lacamoire, of Hamilton and In the Heights fame, earned a Tony and a Grammy for each production, while Scenic Designer David Korins earned a Tony nomination for his work on Hamilton, as well.
What's remarkable about this musical is that it is so thoroughly grounded in the current struggles of our modern world: the effects of social media on our relationships and how we communicate, mental health issues, the rise in youth suicide, and the difficulties of being a single parent, among others. It's a story, sadly, that everyone can relate to, but it's also a story that is beautifully told and full of hope. The entire cast is incredibly talented, and reach the type of tear-inducing vocal perfection that you want to achieve in a Broadway musical, but Stephen Christopher Anthony as Evan delivers a particularly impressive performance, both vocally and portraying the delightfully uncomfortable and awkward Evan.
The music of Dear Evan Hansen has been extremely popular, earning the highest charting debut position on the Billboard 200 for an original cast album since 1961. "You Will Be Found" has become an anthem for anyone who feels alone or left out and, in this day and age, that seems to be a lot of people. In fact, in just the past year, the YouTube video of the song has been streamed nearly 9 million times. For all that social media is supposed to be connecting us, that's a lot of lonely people. A lot of lonely people that Evan Hansen has helped to find. Broadway has always had a reputation for starting important cultural conversations, and Dear Evan Hansen is the conversation we need to be having now.
Dear Evan Hansen runs through Sunday, September 29th at the Marcus Center for Performing Arts Uihlein Hall, located at 929 N. Water St. in Milwaukee. Tickets may be purchased by calling 414.273.7206, or online at: