Dear Evan Hansen’s first international production sheds light on social media pressures

DEAR EVAN HANSEN by Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Steven Levenson (Mirvish). At the Royal Alexandra Theatre (260 King West). Now in previews, opens March 28 and runs to June 30. $59-$250, stu rush $25. 416-872-1212. See listing.

Michael Greif is probably best known for directing Rent, which captured generations of young theatre audiences. Now, two decades later, hes helming another big show thats also appealing to younger people the Tony Award-winning Dear Evan Hansen.

I think everyone remembers those incredibly volatile, vulnerable high school years, those feelings of loneliness, of being desperate to fit in, of not quite knowing who you were going to be and what you were going to be, says Greif, on the eve of the first international production of the show.

The musical, produced by Stacey Mindich and David Mirvish, chronicles the life of Evan, a kid who struggles to make friends and connect with people in a hyper-connected society. Through secrets and deception, he finds himself becoming the centre of attention and thriving socially after a tragedy.

Following an eight-month audition process, with 800 actors competing for the lead role, Vancouver-born Robert Markus was announced as Torontos Evan Hansen a big change from his last role as Riff Raff in Stratford Festivals The Rocky Horror Show.

The boys who play Evan dont need to be damaged people, but they need to have access to what its like to feel alone, says Mindich, who had a hand in casting. Thats a special quality that we look for.

The role calls for an actor with not only strong acting skills, but also with the lung capacity and talent to sing for the entire production.

Once youre onstage youre really trapped there and are singing for most of it, says Mindich.

In a separate interview, Markus admits that parts like this with excellent books and music are rare. The shows themes have made him consider his own social media use.

I think the show has made me kind of question and explore what social media is and if its helpful or if its reducing a lot of my personal connections.

The pressures of social media today and the examination of who we are through that makes [this show] particularly relevant, says Markus. But at the heart of it, this is a coming-of-age story, and I think that everyone can connect with that.

The premise of the story revolves around social media as a way to connect with others, but to also determine self-worth.

Evan himself starts to feel the good fortune of being popular on social media, of having a profile, says Greif. At first he gains some false worth through his social media worthiness, and then ultimately he finds a much truer sense of self-worth.

The family story is incredibly potent, says Grief. From the very start, children and their parents were coming together, and they were anxious to be able to talk about it afterwards.


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