Review: “I don’t see much of myself in the theater, but seeing ‘Dear Evan Hansen,’ told me that I was, at that moment, truly not alone.”

It is true that ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ resonates and touches young people in a way that not too many other shows in recent memory have. Here’s what 14-year-old junior correspondent Grace Niesel has to say about the production, playing this week at the Durham Performing Arts Center. Note, at this performance, the role of Evan Hansen was played by understudy Stephen Anthony and the role of Jared was played by understudy Asher Muldoon.

By Grace Niesel

“Did you fall,” Connor Murphy (the talented Fun Home alum Marrick Smith) begins. I grip my mother’s hand beside me. “Or did you let go?” It’s the defining moment of the Tony Award-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen. Speaking to the apparition of Connor in his mind, the title character, played by Stephen Anthony, is forced to confront his own fears and past.

Dear Evan Hansen is a show that has touched many, myself included. It’s a harrowing tale of mental illness, lies spreading out of control, and, at its heart, family. In 2017, Dear Evan Hansen won six of its nine nominated Tony Awards, including Best Musical. And at the end of last year, it embarked on its first national tour, lighting up big cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles, and smaller cities, like Durham, where it is playing through Sunday. My parents and their friends all sat at their computers last fall, trying their hardest to get tickets to see this. Somehow, they did. So, a little over a day ago, I sat, practically bouncing in my seat, as I waited for the lights to go down.

Even just stepping into the theater was an experience. The screens on set showed just about everything you could imagine including tweets from celebrities, Snapchats, snippets of Instagram chats, music pulled up on Spotify, and word documents, displaying the words, “Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be a good day, and here’s why.”

Stephen Anthony’s portrayal of Evan Hansen nailed so many of the things I do, including worrying his palms would be too sweaty, wiping his hands on his pants, rocking back and forth, apologizing for everything, stuttering in simple sentences, and avoiding taking his medication.

And Asher Muldoon’s debut as Jared Kleinman felt like it was on target as well, making jokes to cover up his own insecurities and self-hatred with jokes that verge on morally incorrect.

Even Alana Beck, the neurotic overachiever portrayed wonderfully by Phoebe Koyabe, embodied so much of what I felt like the leader and founder of my school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Trying so hard, but still feeling invisible.

Marrick Smith gave a moving performance as Connor Murphy, both as the real one and Evan’s imagined one, Smith’s reprise of Evan’s ballad For Forever, although not on the original cast album, brought me close to tears, and his vocals blended insanely well with Anthony’s.

And speaking of Anthony, pair his belting and acting with Maggie McKenna’s soft voice and ability to make even the smallest gesture seem beautiful, and you get the teen love song Only Us. Mckenna plays Zoe, Connor’s sister.

Evan’s struggling single mother Heidi, played by Jessica Phillips, draws a stark contrast in both vocals and aesthetics to Cynthia and Larry Murphy, played by Christiane Noll and Aaron Lazar respectively. The wrinkles in Heidi’s face and her strained yelling worked in sharp contrast to the petite voice and the finely pressed shirts of the Murphys. In fact, Phillips sang her solo, So Big/So Small, with such authenticity, I was brought to wondering if it was something that she herself had gone through. Lazar also hits his role as Larry Murphy right on the nose, as a struggling father who’s unsure what to do, struck by confusion and grief.

On a platform above the stage, the band performed with all their might, wailing violins along with a masterful piano, all concocting a beautiful score to support the show.

While this show has certain plot points and aspects that are less than favorable, it’s truly a show that was crafted for modern society. I’m fourteen years old, struggling with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, and outside of Spring Awakening and Next to Normal, I don’t see much of myself in the theatre. But hearing the anthem of the show You Will Be Found, told me that I was, at that moment, truly not alone.

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