“Dear Evan Hansen” is a must-see at the NAC.

ABOVE: Anthony Norman (Evan Hansen), John Hemphill (Larry Murphy), Lili Thomas (Cynthia Murphy), Alaina Anderson (Zoe Murphy), in the 2022-2023 North American Tour of Dear Evan Hansen. (Photo: Evan Zimmerman)

Once again, I am boasting about the National Arts Centre, specifically its Broadway Across Canada program. A few weeks ago, Hamilton was wowing audiences, and now it's Dear Evan Hansen. These two shows are a natural transition for me. Back in 2020, when I had the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat, many times through the joys of Spotify, songs from Dear Evan Hansen would be sprinkled in. I heard ‘Waving Through a Window’ many times before I knew who Evan Hansen was. It is a very catchy song that led to my interest in this ‘new show’— new to me as Dear Evan Hansen came out in 2015.

Dear Evan Hansen is based on a book by Steven Levenson and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. It is another Broadway hit that won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Lead Actor for Ben Platt (Pitch Perfect). The musical was then adapted into a film. The film opened the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival to quite a lot of fanfare. Fans flocked to the festival to catch a glimpse of Ben Platt and see the musical they had come to love adapted for the big screen. The movie was good, but it was met with mixed reviews. Some didn’t care for the fact that Platt, in his late 20’s, was cast as a teenager. I liked the movie, but not having seen the show on Broadway, I didn’t have a reference point.

What I saw at the National Arts Centre will not have mixed reviews — this is an outstanding production. While I am a cinephile to my heart and soul, this is a show that should be seen in a theatre, just not a movie theatre. Dear Evan Hansen tells the story of . . . well . . . Evan Hansen. He is a high schooler who is having difficulty fitting in and finding his place in this crazy thing called life. He doesn’t have friends and is being raised by his single mother, who works very hard and, as a result, is not always present for her troubled teen.

Evan is seeing a therapist, and one of the exercises he is tasked with is writing letters to himself. ‘Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be a good day…’ etc. Due to unfortunate circumstances, a letter he writes has its ownership claimed by a classmate who takes his own life, and this misunderstanding thrusts Hansen into a place he’s not used to being in, the spotlight.

Evan falls deeper into a web of lies as he manufactures a relationship with this student that didn’t exist, as telling the truth seems unbearable for him.

At his core, Evan has social anxiety. He second guesses so much in his life, and something as simple as shaking someone’s hands gives him pause. (Are his hands too sweaty?) The role that won Ben Platt a Tony Award is played brilliantly by Anthony Norman; he made it his own by capturing every single idiosyncrasy of the main character. From the opening scene, I believe that he is Evan Hansen.

The entire cast was exceptional. I didn’t see the show on Broadway, but I was extremely satisfied with the touring version. Every actor in the company brought their character to life and was believable.

The overall production is solid; the sets are fantastic; the lighting is perfectly timed and effective, and I am very impressed at how seamlessly the transitions are between scenes.

The songs in the show are great and complement the story very well. One of the main songs, ‘Waiving through a Window,’ accurately describes the main character who sees life moving by while trying to fit in. At its essence, the overall show is great. It deals with very serious themes without being preachy. One doesn’t feel they're being lectured to with the material but instead informed and reminded that its ok to not be ok.

I have no doubt Dear Evan Hansen is a great resource for fostering discussions about mental health, and with each viewing, it will continue to do so with audiences.

With its Tony Award-winning status as a Best Musical, Dear Evan Hansen joins great shows like Jersey Boys, Rent, Phantom of the Opera, and Hamilton. The best part is that Dear Evan Hansen is at the NAC through Sunday, August 14.

Do yourself a favour and go see it. Don’t watch as everyone else snatches up a ticket; walk on in. You’ll be happy you did.

Grade: B+