“DEAR EVAN HANSEN,” through March 14, Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main (801-355-2787 or artsaltlake.org); running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been almost two years since I saw “Dear Evan Hansen” for the first time on Broadway.
It was a warm summer afternoon, and I paid full price for a ticket at the back of the theater.
“Dear Evan Hansen” has been one of the most popular shows on Broadway, and for good reason.
The musical won six Tony Awards out of the nine nominations it received in 2017, and its original cast recording took home the 2018 Grammy Award for best musical theater album.
With the show’s reputation in mind — as well as the fact that the music was created by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the amazing songwriting duo behind “The Greatest Showman” and “La La Land ” — I ventured into the Broadway performance excited, but not quite knowing what to expect.
Little did I know on that August afternoon how much this play about family, bullying, social anxiety and suicide would impact me.
The musical follows Evan Hansen, an insecure teenage boy whose therapist recommends writing daily affirmation letters to himself in order to help build his confidence. When one of the letters is found in the pocket of a high school classmate who takes his own life, Evan finds himself caught in a lie about the two having been best friends.
Along the way, viewers see parents who are doing their best but struggling to connect with their kids, and teens who want to fit in but feel invisible and wonder, “Would anyone even notice if I disappeared tomorrow?”
The characters are real and relatable, and the message is important: “If you only look around, you will be found.”
More than three years after its Broadway debut, the musical remains popular. Tickets sold like hotcakes to the Salt Lake City national touring production of “Dear Evan Hansen,” which opened Wednesday and runs through March 14. And though the musicality and delivery from some of the cast in the Eccles Theater production was not always quite as on point as on Broadway, the story was just as powerful.
Each actor, of course, interprets his or her character a little differently, which is part of the fun.
Stephen Christopher Anthony played an endearing and immediately lovable Evan Hansen. His insecure body language — manifest in his tense posture and actions like tugging his shirt and touching his face — perfectly described Evan and helped audiences understand the character.
Anthony offered incredible vocals to the performance — at one point during the show, I heard someone in the audience whistle in awe after Anthony hit an especially impressive note.
Stephanie La Rochelle also shined onstage as Evan’s love interest Zoe Murphy, portraying her as sweet but not without her own struggles as evinced in a heartfelt rendition of the song “Requiem.”
Some of my favorite moments of the show came when cast members sang together in songs like “Waving Through a Window” and “You Will Be Found.” Though I’ve listened to the “Dear Evan Hansen” soundtrack a hundred times since seeing the play on Broadway, the powerful live harmonies left chills on my skin.
“Dear Evan Hansen” does a good job of addressing heavy topics while maintaining a good balance of serious and light moments. The Salt Lake production took the audience on a journey from the silly and awkward — cue a nervous Evan’s rambling introduction to Zoe — to emotionally profound moments like a long overdue heart-to-heart between Evan and his mom.
The success of “Dear Evan Hansen” amid juggernauts like “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Lion King,” “Frozen” and “Wicked” shows that there is a place in theater for harder-hitting subjects.
And judging by its popularity, “Dear Evan Hansen” is a story people want and need. I didn’t know how much I needed it until I experienced it.
“Dear Evan Hansen” offers an important reminder that everyone matters and no one is alone. And that even when you feel like letting go, if you just hold on and keep going, you will eventually see the sun.
Content advisory: “Dear Evan Hansen” contains strong language and sexual references.