Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Dear Evan Hansen
National Tour
Review by Patrick Thomas

Also see Patrick's recent review of Clyde's

Anthony Norman and Colleen Sexton
Photo by Evan Zimmerman for Murphymade
In my life as a freelance writer, I worked often in Silicon Valley, and spent a lot of time helping tech companies sell their vision of the Internet. In those days (mostly the 1990s), the internet's promise was lofty: a world without borders, instant communication, and "information at your fingertips." To a great extent, it all came true: today, there's no longer a need to wonder who was the pitcher when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home run record (Al Downing) or what the actual lyrics to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" are (including "a mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido"). Today we can keep up with our friends through Facebook or Instagram and see their new babies or flocks of backyard chickens. YouTube gives us access to about a million hours of new video every day. Spotify serves up almost every piece of music ever recorded and released to the public.

But somewhere along the way, the promise of connection turned into a reality of disconnection. Did the internet actually bring us closer, or did it trap us in bubbles of isolation and echo chambers reinforcing what we want to be true, rather than what actually is true?

This sense of disconnection–both technical and personal–is at the heart of the Tony-winning musical Dear Evan Hansen, which has returned to San Francisco in a production as thrilling and funny and heartbreaking as ever. Having lost none of its contemporaneity since it premiered almost eight years ago, and with a terrific cast, this production (if you've never seen it) is a wonderful introduction to one of the most creatively presented musicals and well worthy of a second, or even third viewing if you've already had the pleasure.

Dear Evan Hansen concerns a high school senior so socially awkward he not only has zero friends at school, but can't even order dinner while mom is at work because he'd have to interact with the delivery person. It's easy to see why: Evan (Anthony Norman) is bright, maybe even gifted, but can't seem to filter his speech, so whatever is on his rapidly firing mind–appropriate or not–comes rushing out any time he interacts with any human being other than his mother, Heidi (Colleen Sexton).

In order to help Evan with his awkwardness, Heidi has hired a therapist, who suggests Evan write himself a letter that tells him what a great day it's going to be and why. But Evan, so disconnected from virtually all the rest of humanity, doesn't actually believe any day is going to be great. His letter turns out to the polar opposite of optimism, and when school stoner/loner Connor Murphy (August Emerson) gets his hands on the letter, everything starts to go seriously sideways. Without spoiling the rather intricate plot (the book by Steven Levenson is nothing short of terrific), and a tragedy connected to it, the letter is misinterpreted (and miscredited), and Evan–with only the best of intentions–ends up wrapping himself in a tangled web of lies that end up having consequences that are beyond anyone's ability to manage, let alone a shy, troubled 17-year old.

As the story flies along, ensnaring Evan ever deeper in his web of lies, the talented cast do a stellar job of inhabiting their roles. Norman's Evan is appropriately nerdy and hesitant, and his fumbling attempts to manage his interactions show most expressively in his eyes: they widen and dart as he attempts (mostly unsuccessfully) to decode the social clues coming at him. As Evan's "family friend" (as distinct from an actual friend) Jared, Pablo David Laucerica is delightfully acerbic and cutting, and incredibly precise in the timing of his barbs and teasing. But the surprise of the night was Gillian Jackson Han's portrayal of Zoe–the sister of Connor and Evan's object of teen desire. Han stepped in as an understudy, but her performance was flawless; there was never a moment when I felt her emotions were anything but authentic.

Ultimately, thanks in large part to Evan's lies, good things happen around him. A family once in conflict begin to come together, a school riven by cliques and general teen angst rally around each other, and, it seems, the entire nation finds something unifying. Disconnections seem to heal, and the promise of the internet (at least for a brief time) seems fulfilled.

Dear Evan Hansen runs through February 19, 2023, at SHN's Orpheum Theatre, 1182 Market Street, San Francisco CA. Tickets range from $40 (rush) to $256.50. For tickets and information, please call the box office at 888-746-1799 or visit For more information on the tour, visit