by Madeleine Chan, Staff Writer
Dear Evan Hansen rolled into town a few weeks ago, and I was ecstatic. If you weren’t wistfully staring out a window while listening to this musical’s top track “Waving Through a Window” in 2017, then I don’t know what you were doing. But I guess if you haven’t somehow heard of this musical or its music, then let me break it down for you. Evan Hansen, a socially outcast high school senior, pretends to be the best friend with Connor Murphy who had recently died by suicide.
Sound complicated? Because it is. But the show handled the topics of suicide and mental health with nuance and depth, which were incredibly accented by Sam Primack’s perfect performance as Evan. I appreciated how complex the story was and how it was not just another tale of “social outcast is not outcast anymore.” There were also no clear antagonists, as the story’s perspective and direction changed constantly. This may have made it difficult for people who know nothing about the show to follow, but for me, it was plot paradise.
The jokes weren’t as great, though. It didn’t sit right with me that gayness was used as the punchline multiple times. It didn’t help that they were also punctuated by the audience’s uproarious laughter.
However, this unease was quelled by the incredible stage production. Having only listened to the soundtrack prior to seeing the show, I was amazed at how much the set brought the production to life. The stage was dressed with multiple sliding screens at different depths and heights that would shift and slide depending on the setting. Along with this, the seamless scene changes were enhanced by the seemingly floating set pieces, which consisted only of furniture like beds and couches. They were so seamless in fact I had no idea how they moved them. My running theories are that they were moved by a complex system of magnets beneath the stage or they were being remote-controlled like a toy car. In any case, it was visual nirvana.
Another aspect that breathed life into the show was the dynamic and emotional music. One of my absolute favourite musical devices is recurring melodic and lyrical themes, and this show had them in spades. From the numerous reprises to the call back to “Waving Through A Window” in “Words Fail” at the end of the show, this musical is great at bringing back bits of music to signify the multiple changing themes of the story.
Though, the standout song for me was “Requiem” because it embodied the show’s complexity and dynamic perspectives. The song featured Stephanie La Rochelle as Zoe Murphy questioning why she should grieve the brother that was so horrible to her. Meanwhile, in consecutive verses, her parents are trying to not grieve their beloved son. Their words synchronize at the chorus as they sing “I will sing no requiem” — but all for different reasons. The layers in this song are truly a phenomenal feat that add so much clever contrast.
I don’t know how I feel about the musical’s mixed ending, it was almost too abrupt. I would have liked to see more of the fallout of the major conflict, and the strong “You are not alone” message seemed to get lost by the end. But I think, overall, the show delivered a solid story that was enhanced and almost overshadowed by the exceptional production and magnificent music. Dear Evan Hansen has left town now, but I suggest listening to the soundtrack as a primer to when this popular musical inevitably returns.