Featuring troubled teens, clueless parents, suicide, lies, social media and heartfelt singing, “Dear Evan Hansen” — winner of six Tony Awards, including Best Musical — will be ushering in the New Year at San Diego Civic Theatre, from Dec. 31, 2019 to Jan. 12, 2020.
This is its first appearance here, thanks to Broadway San Diego, and though it’s far from the usual cheery holiday fare, you won’t want to miss it.
Now in its second year of a national tour, the show premiered in Washington, D.C., in 2015, moving on to off-Broadway and then Broadway, where it’s heading into year number four. It scored a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album in 2018 and recently opened in London, winning rave reviews.
The title character is a desperately lonely high school senior, whose therapist suggests he write daily letters to himself, describing good things that could happen each day. I was fortunate to be able to speak with Jessica Sherman, who plays Heidi Hansen, Evan’s struggling single mom, who is trying to be there for him, but not doing too well.
Earlier this year, Toronto-born Sherman played Heidi in a Canadian production of the show, taking home the Toronto Theatre Critics Association Award for her performance. Having been mother to five different Evans in the past year, she provided some interesting insights into what makes “Dear Evan Hansen” special.
“We’ve been given lots of room to find our own characters and relationships, and the tour started out with weeks of rehearsal, merging the new members of the cast into the original touring company,” she said. “The show is all about relationships, everybody trying so hard but failing in some way, and as actors, we’re putting it out there, sometimes twice a day. You can’t do that without getting to know and love each other, and our audiences feel that.”
Each Evan has had a different way of showing his anxiety and self-doubt, Sherman said, so as his mom, her performance changes a bit with each one. The current Evan, Stephen Christopher Anthony, an understudy in the Broadway production, became an alternate on the national tour and took over the role in September.
“Evan is a kid who fundamentally cares about people and tries to fix things for everyone, but he doesn’t know how to fix himself, so he makes big mistakes,” Sherman explained. “My goal is to get through to him; I just can’t do anything right. There’s no big redemption moment at the end, but we do learn to move on. And it’s a moment the audience shares with us, every time; they really connect. It’s a very emotional, cathartic experience of coming together.”
The show is not all about teenage angst and adult confusion; there’s humor too, and plenty of singing.
The San Diego/La Jolla connection
Michael Greif, the director of “Dear Evan Hansen,” was nominated for the 2017 Tony for Best Direction of a Musical, but lost out to La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley and “Come From Away.”
Greif, who previously earned Tony nominations for “Rent,” “Grey Gardens” and “Next to Normal,” received his MFA in Theater at UC San Diego, and was Artistic Director of La Jolla Playhouse from 1994-1999.
• IF YOU GO: “Dear Evan Hansen” is on stage, matinees and evenings, Dec. 31, 2019 to Jan. 12, 2020 at San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown San Diego. Tickets: From $45.50. (619) 570-1100. broadwaysd.com