‘Dear Evan Hansen’ has always been a fan favorite for theater-lovers and for those seeking out some connection. With music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul — and Pasek, who is an Ardmore native, was inspired by his time at Friends’ Central School for the show — the plot follows Evan Hansen, a high school senior with social anxiety, “who invents an important role for himself in a tragedy that he did not earn.”
The show, based on the book by Steven Levenson, has been turned into a movie and has made its way on and off Broadway for some time. And along the ride, audiences of all ages have found relatability and catharsis in the music, the message and characters.
Anthony Norman, who plays Evan himself, and Coleen Sexton (another local from New Jersey), who plays his mother Heidi, both sat down with Metro to discuss more on the show and what makes it special.
Why did you want to audition for ‘Dear Evan Hansen’?
Norman: I actually thought I wasn’t right for the show at all…but of course if I had the opportunity I would jump at it, which I did. When I got the audition from my agent it was actually right before COVID, and in 2020 I was excited about it. Then when it came back around this year in February, I thought, I’m not right for this at all. Looks-wise, vocally…just I’m not right for it and it’s not my show.
Then I went to my first appointment and I was proven wrong, in every aspect—and it’s quite literally a dream come true because it couldn’t feel more right now. From that first audition, it was just like oh no, there is no way this is not happening, it felt correct and it just keeps feeling more and more right every day.
Sexton: To be really, really honest, I’ve had a pretty long career and this role was probably in my top two dream roles. When I first saw it, I was just blown away with the story, [Heidi’s] journey and the music—every song is different. It’s really an incredible score. But the minute I saw it, I knew I needed to be in, and I think I felt that way with one other show in my life… And I just pushed myself and got in there and had a couple of callbacks and I got to play it. So, it’s kind of amazing.
You mentioned Heidi’s journey through the show, can you delve into your character a bit more and what she goes through?
Sexton: Well, she’s a single mom and I know many of them, including my mother, and Heidi is struggling to keep her relationship with her son. She works a job, goes to school at night—and it’s basically that single mom that struggles with any teenage son. They want to connect with their kid and how eventually the story grows where it’s opening up and having kids be able to open up and connect.
There’s a song in the show actually in the beginning, the first song called ‘Does Anybody Have a Map’ … it’s a duet with the other mother in the show and there again, just mothers trying to make it through with their kids. That song is about motherhood, and it’s just a beautiful, beautiful show.
And Evan? How would you describe him and what he goes through?
Norman: Evan is relatable, I think to everybody of all ages. Especially now. He’s this kid who feels very isolated and very alone and just left alone in this world—especially in the modern world with technology and social media. Twenty years or even 10 years ago, you weren’t able to see everything that you were missing. And now, if you aren’t invited to something or just didn’t know something that was happening, you see it right in front of you and you are told outright, oh you’re not a part of this.
Evan just wants to feel a part of something because he is so left on the outside of it all. And he just desperately wants to please people and make people feel at peace and good — especially his mother. He will go through any cause to make sure his mom feels taken care of, even if that means sacrificing his own happiness.
Are there any moments that you’re looking forward to performing, or for audiences to see?
Sexton: The beauty of this show is that there are so many characters. I think everybody in the audience can probably relate to at least one of them. The song at the end of Act 1 is called ‘You Will Be Found’—a beautiful song sang by the entire company, and the message is that you are not alone. I think everybody needs to hear that message, especially in this world that we live in today. There are always outlets. And that song is just a beautiful ending to Act 1, and is probably one of my favorite moments in the show.
Overall, what do you hope people take away from the show?
Norman: I hope that it’s able to start a conversation between parents and children, or just family and friends in general. I hope it allows people to bring up mental health without talking about it and feeling like there is a stigma attached to it. People in the cities that we go to might not feel comfortable talking about, oh, that’s something I struggle with, so, I hope it gets a conversation going.
That just makes it the best job in the world when someone messages me or tells me after a show that they feel like they’re Evan and that they were seen. That’s the best and makes it so worth it. On a lighter note, I hope people laugh and have a great time, because it’s also a really funny show.
‘Dear Evan Hansen‘ will play at The Shubert Organization’s Forrest Theatre from Tuesday, Aug. 16 to Sunday, Aug. 28 as part of The Shubert Organization and Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Broadway Series. Tickets can be purchased at www.telecharge.com, by phone at 212-239-6200, or at the Forrest Theatre box office (1114 Walnut Street)