• Penny Neef

Dear Evan Hansen – Brilliant, Bold, and Not Your Average Musical


Words by Penny Neef. Images courtesy of Seven Venues.


The 2022 – 2023 Broadway in Norfolk series at Chrysler Hall starts off with a profoundly moving, deeply relevant, “breathtaking knockout of a musical” – Dear Evan Hansen.


DEH, as it is fondly called by cast and fans, will be playing at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk from Tuesday, November 8 – Sunday, November 13. Winner of six 2017 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and the 2018 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, Dear Evan Hansen doesn’t fit the big, brassy, thirty people dancing on the stage Broadway show. Maybe that’s why it swept the Tonys. DEH is “a game-changer”, “a brilliant message of hope and humanity”, and “an extraordinary, thrilling contemporary great American musical.”

Evan Hansen is a high schooler who is bullied and feels like an outsider. Without giving too much away, he tells a lie that gives him something he’s always wanted, a chance to fit in. It’s a story about the power of social media, family dynamics, the pressure to conform, and the courage to tell the truth. All of this wrapped up with a fantastic score.


I spoke to Ian Coursey about Dear Evan Hansen. Coursey understudies two roles for DEH, Connor Murphy and Jared Kleinman. Connor, and his death, play a pivotal role in Evan’s deception. Jared is a “reluctant family friend” who becomes deeply involved in the lies.

Ian Coursey was called to New York City right after his sophomore year at University of Michigan, where he studies Musical Theater. He had sent in video clips to several casting agencies, but had never heard back. He was happily pursuing his studies at U of M when he got the call. Within a few weeks, he was rehearsing in New York with Michael Grief, the original director. As Coursey said, “I had no intention of leaving school. This fell into my lap, but I’m learning an incredible amount on the road with this cast and crew.” DEH is his first professional contract.


Dear Evan Hansen is a year-long gig for Coursey. He’ll be back at U of M next school year. In the meantime, he has time to take online courses and work on his studies backstage. He does Zoom voice lessons with his vocal coach. Coursey plays guitar. The rest of the cast are musicians too, and they often jam together on the road.

Being an understudy means he has to be in the building for every performance. He has been called to go onstage with two hours’ notice. He has stepped in 22 times out of the 150 performances so far on the tour. I asked how he could remember the lines, the blocking, and the music when he goes on so infrequently for two totally different parts. He said, “Adrenaline just takes over. I have rehearsed over and over with the cast. I watch the show from the audience a couple of times a week, and the onstage company is absolutely terrific when I step in.”


Coursey loves the show. “The music is fantastic. The show sparks difficult but necessary conversations. Anyone can come and they will connect with someone in the cast.”


For more information and to purchase tickets, go to https://www.sevenvenues.com/events/detail/dear-evan-hansen


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