Arriving in the West End while still booming on Broadway, Dear Evan Hansen is one of the most celebrated stage musicals of the last decade. A high school story for the internet age and all its anxiety, it ran away with a haul of six Tony Awards in New York two years ago – including best musical, best book and best original score.
It centres on a nervy high school senior, Evan Hansen, struck dumb in social situations; a kid so self-conscious he’d rather go hungry than exchange small talk with a pizza delivery guy. Advised by his therapist to write letters of encouragement to himself, Evan’s words wind up in his schoolmate Connor’s hands – only to be mistaken for his suicide note. Not wanting to upset Connor’s family, Evan inadvertently invents a friendship and sets about establishing the evidence with a fake email trail. But when he gives a speech so moving it becomes a viral sensation, raising millions for a fund set up in Connor’s name, the pressure to maintain that lie only mounts and mounts.
While its original American lead Ben Platt, since shot to stardom, isn’t travelling across to London, Dear Evan Hansen’s producers have been on a big open casting trawl in a bid to find a British-born star to pick up his mantle. Expect the West End production to launch a new name to West End fame and acclaim.
In any case, Dear Evan Hansen’s real star is its score. Along with Lin-Manuel Miranda, songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have been hailed as the great hope of American musical theatre. Still only in their early thirties, they’re just one letter away from legendary EGOT status, having picked up an Oscar for their song ‘City of Stars’ from the film La La Land.
Dear Evan Hansen is their calling card, however, and it’s superbly composed. ‘Waving Through a Window’, which weaves through the show in several reprises, is a soaring minor-key refrain that marries melancholy with an itchy pulse. ‘Only Us’ is a heartfelt, youthful duet and ‘You Will Be Found’ doubles as an accusatory ensemble number and an uplifting spiritual that sends the audiences out with a cheer.