By Dustin Jussila
Almost everyone has had an awkward phase in their young lives of figuring out where they stand in the eyes of their peers. Does anyone notice me? Who are my real friends? Hormones can make us do very foolish things. In Broadway Across Canada’s Dear Evan Hansen, we explore this embarrassing phase and take it to another level when a good-hearted high school student inadvertently causes a domino effect that has serious implications for his life, another family, and his school.
Evan Hansen, an awkward high school student, exaggerates the truth over the relationship he had with a fellow classmate who had committed suicide. And while he welcomes the warm validation from the family of departed classmate, his fantasy begins to unravel causing angst for everyone around him.
This musical is successful because it is so relevant to today’s teen culture. We are all much more cognizant of bullying and suicide then ever before, as well as the role social media has in our day-to-day lives. Young people are more aware of social anxieties,and they are not going to let their voices remain unheard, nor sit on the sidelines. The characters in this musical are grounded, and everyone in the audience should be able to find at least one character to attach themselves to. This musical isn’t just for teens – parents will feel sympathetic for the fictional parents who dedicate their entire lives to building up their sons and daughters, even though they fall short.
Teens and young adults will recognize the looming nature of modern social media, which society cannot escape. This is demonstrated wonderfully by this performance through dynamic and moving screens that show shots of computer devices, phone screens, and emails to emphasize how prevalent digital communication is.
Stephen Christopher Anthony, who acted in the Book of Mormon and is no stranger to Broadway, perfectly captures the essence of a socially awkward teen. His character is too clumsy for his own body, and too clumsy to successfully live the lie that he fabricates. Every character you are introduced to is imperfect in this musical. Each has their own struggles and fears, no one is perfect enough to be hated, but just flawed enough to be relatable. In fact, you might notice that there are no archetypal “villains” in this musical at all – the only antagonists are the bad decisions people make and the worse ways they might react to them.
Dear Evan Hanson explores themes of confused youth, and the anxieties of growing up. This performance is a lot more than your typical High School Musical, it has real themes of mental illness and suicide. More significantly, this performance highlights the importance of not sacrificing who you are for a sense of “belonging.” Every person grows into a sense of identity; you cannot invent a reality into whatever you want it to be.
Banner and Text Photography Courtesy of Matthew Murphy.