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Dear Evan Hansen is finally here in Detroit… and it was worth the wait
The Broadway hit is now playing at the Fisher Theatre through October 9th.
DETROIT – Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be a good day and here’s why: the show finally made its debut here in Detroit, and it was worth the wait.
The Broadway phenomenon, which just closed on the Great White Way on September 18th after 1,678 performances, was to make its Detroit premiere in February 2020, but was cancelled due to the pandemic shutdown. For many Detroiters, this has been a show many have been waiting years for. Over two years later, the Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical is here for a two-week run at the Fisher Theatre.
Anthony Norman plays the titular Evan Hansen, a high school loner who discovers fame, and love, through a misunderstanding about a letter he wrote. Norman plays a remarkable Evan, filled with many of the nervous ticks that made Ben Platt, who originated the role on Broadway and reprised it in the movie, famous, but does so in a manner that feels much more natural.
On-stage for almost the entirety of the show, Norman displays the complexity of navigating the tumultuous events surrounding the letter with sincerity and depth. The audience is immediately captivated with his rendition of “Waving Through a Window,” arguably one of the toughest songs for a tenor in the modern Broadway songbook.
Alongside Evan’s journey is his romantic interest Zoe, played by a powerful Alaina Anderson who expertly balances angst, anger and affection. A standout was Pablo David Laucerica as the wisecracking Jared Kleinman. His skilled comedic timing makes you wish he had more lines in the show.
The heart of Dear Evan Hansen belongs to the mothers, particularly Evan’s mom, Heidi, played by a heartbreaking Coleen Sexton. Evan and Heidi never seem to be on the same emotional wavelength, and when things start to finally collapse, it’s Heidi’s emotions that really drive Act II. From her rock and roll anguish in “Good For You” to her gentle comfort in “So Big/So Small,” Sexton carefully displays the nuances of balancing motherhood and life with real and raw emotion.
This isn’t your typical, big dance number musical. Dear Evan Hansen is more of a drama with the award winning songs of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (who wrote the music for The Greatest Showman and La La Land). If you’ve heard the original Broadway cast album, you already know how much of an earworm the music is. If you haven’t heard the Grammy Award-winning album yet, I recommend you take a listen. Don’t worry – the songs don’t give too much away.
David Korin’s minimalist and largely black-box-with-projections set helps keep the focus on the drama and the characters, but I can’t help but think that a fuller, fleshed-out version of the two families’ homes could provide more context to Evan’s desire of escape. In one scene, the same couch is used to represent one home, and simply exchanges the throw pillows and blankets to signify the switch.
What the show lacks in its set is made up for in the dynamic lighting designed by Japhy Weideman. Lighting, along with musical cues, are used in sync to create what I call “breaths:” these moments throughout the show where bright white lights flood the stage and gently fade out during moments of clarity. It’s a tool used with great success to help the audience understand what the characters are feeling.
Peter Nigrini’s projection design does an excellent job of placing the setting without being overpowering. Surrounded by faded text, blurred profile pictures and social media icons, it’s easy to understand when conversations are happening over text message, at school or at home. The projections really shine during “Good For You” when the visual cues are perfectly timed to the drum hits, adding impact to an already emotionally-charged song.
Dear Evan Hansen is a masterclass in the dynamics of family, social media and truth. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that tugs at your heartstrings while opening up conversations that many families can find difficult. Even with some of the darker topics the show presents, ultimately, it’s a story about hope and finding light in challenging and unexpected circumstances. Real life, as well as truth, is complex, messy and sometimes difficult.
Dear Evan Hansen runs at the Fisher Theatre now through October 9th. Tickets start at $40. The show is recommended for ages 12 and up with some adult themes and discussions of suicide. For more information, schedule and tickets, visit BroadwayinDetroit.com.