The Room Where It Happened: Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton, AB
Gimme That Eleven O’clock Number: “You Will Be Found”
Content Warning: Suicide is very prominent in this show and therefore this review as well.
Let’s Get This Show On the Road
This description feels very glib, but it’s also literally what goes on.
Evan Hansen is a high school senior whose therapist tells him to write letters to himself to help him look on the bright side of things. After a particularly bad day, his letter gets stolen by the school bully, Connor Murphy, who later kills himself and is found with the letter. But it’s ambiguously worded so everyone thinks it’s Connor’s suicide note, which Evan… goes along with. And it snowballs into an increasingly elaborate lie.
The Room Where It Happened
Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, Edmonton, AB
Sign My Playbill
This is… really tough. I empathize with Evan’s loneliness and his struggles with mental health. But. It’s one thing to feel so desperate that you’re willing to do anything, and quite another to go through with it — especially when ‘it’ is lying about another person’s suicide. (To be fair, he did have some initial hesitancy, but then he really ran tf away with it.) I know you’re hurting, Evan, but Connor was, too. And no matter what amount of good came out of this — bringing comfort to his family, inspiring an online movement in his honour — it can’t make up for how it’s all based on a lie. In life, Connor felt like nobody understood him; in death, people still don’t. They only know the version that Evan invented.
Less complicated are my feelings towards the Murphys, particularly his sister Zoe. It’s a minor plot point that I wish was further explored, but Zoe’s grappling with reconciling Evan’s fabrication and her experience of Connor as her lifelong tormentor. And, of course, Zoe is also Evan’s longtime crush, whom he grows closer to after Connor’s death and eventually dates and sleeps with. (I’ve had to restrain myself from shouting or this entire review would be in all caps, but TRUST — that is exactly the tone with which I write.)
I really, truly can’t.
WHERE TO START. (Or where to continue.)
I just can’t get over that the whole entire show is predicated on lying about someone’s suicide. Like, that is A CHOICE. And the audience never finds out more about the person who died, other than him being friendless and lonely. The original Broadway production team didn’t want the show to be thought of as the suicide musical, and I would actually agree with that — because NO ONE CARES ABOUT IT IN A THOUGHTFUL WAY. (I’m glad that the novelization includes Connor’s perspective, even if the show makes me so angry that I will never read it.)
Because of this big fundamental flaw in the story, I don’t think there’s any graceful way to pull off a satisfying ending — and the one that happened certainly wasn’t it. (Spoilers ahead.) The Murphys discover the truth, but they don’t reveal it to the public and the online movement continues without Connor’s involvement. Which is basically it for consequences. Some good came out of it, so lying isn’t that bad, I guess!??!?! The Murphy parents briefly cry about it, but that’s the extent of the reaction to this horrific lie that they’re allowed! Zoe at least gets to speak for herself, but this show ultimately only cares about Evan’s character growth, disastrous aftermath be damned. As Slate’s review puts it, “this musical employs many different tactics to prevent us from seeing Evan Hansen as a jerk, but its most audacious is to not allow anyone onstage to see him that way.” HARD AGREE.
Setting the Scene
Dear Evan Hansen is very much a product of our current time (or, our pre-quarantine current time). Multiple screens are used to represent what’s happening on social media, which is well integrated with the action on the stage.
Gimme That Eleven O’clock Number
The big stand-out is, of course, “You Will Be Found”. Big number, big emotions — even with my complete aversion to the plot. That chorus is super catchy, and out of context, I have no issues with the message.
Zoe was played by the understudy in my performance, which is notable because the actor is black while the rest of the Murphys were played by white actors. Actual inclusive and equal opportunity casting!* (Current FYA dreamboat Jordan Fisher is also the reigning Evan Hansen on Broadway.)
I can now also finally understand all the references in Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera’s What If It’s Us, even if I have a vastly differing stance on Dear Evan Hansen than its characters did. (Now that I know the title is a love song between Evan and Zoe? BARF.)
… This section is hilariously supposed to focus on the good things about the show, but my opinion is obviously too tainted to strictly stick to the positives.
* Even though Zoe being a different race than the rest of her family introduces a totally new dynamic that could be addressed. If the show cared about anybody other than Evan, that is.
The Show Must Go On
I mean. I’d have to rack my brain for more grievances to air, but I’ve already covered the main ones.
Statler and Waldorf Say…
It’s fitting that we’re using the Muppet critics to deliver our final thoughts, because Dear Evan Hansen makes me feel like Peak Cranky Old Person. The music is good, I’ll give it that.* But chalk this up to one of those popular things that the internet likes that confounds me.
* Though I’ve yet to attend any show that has figuratively made my ears bleed. Stands to reason that a musical should at minimum have, y’know, good music.
FTC Full Disclosure: I paid for my own ticket to this show. I received neither money nor gelato for writing this review (dammit!).