Surviving the social ails of high school is a feat in itself. Many can relate to having some level of anxiety and feeling like an outsider during those sometimes challenging adolescent years (and those that follow).
It’s in part those relatable feelings that have led Dear Evan Hansen to becoming an award-winning Broadway phenomenon, spurring conversations about important topics commonly shied away from, including depression, anxiety, and suicide. The national tour of the hit musical is showing Dallas audiences what the buzz is all about during the Texas leg of a national tour that also includes stops in Houston, Austin, and San Antonio.
Stephanie La Rochelle is looking forward to the show’s Dallas run at the Music Hall at Fair Park, November 26-December 8. La Rochelle, an aspiring country music singer from Ottawa, Canada, joined the show in September as Zoe, Evan’s love interest (this is only her second professional theater credit). La Rochelle is one of four Canadians in the onstage cast of eight.
“I wasn’t focused on theater, but this popped up and I went for it,” she explains. “The show is so intimate, it almost feels like a film on stage. It’s very raw and the music is very pop-heavy so it’s something I was very interested in.”
For all its rawness, Dear Evan Hansen is not likely to be dubbed the feel-good musical of the year. It’s known for eliciting visceral responses from the audience and has a reputation for its "squirm in your chair, cringe-worthy moments."
The crux of the story is that Evan, a lonely and socially awkward high school senior, tells a lie to help a grieving family after their son commits suicide. Evan’s misrepresentation of the truth spirals out of control while earning Evan the adulation and acceptance he’s always longed for. Although his intentions are good, Evan’s deception opens a can of worms and he’s eventually overcome with guilt.
Evan's actions help make him a social media sensation, and the multiple screens around the stage displaying social media feeds and images add a modern storytelling twist and a hypnotic visual.
“Social media almost plays a character in the production,” explains La Rochelle. “For Evan, things quickly spiral out of hand on social and I think a lot of young people can relate."
The show’s spotlight on social media has spurred online activity offstage. La Rochelle says Dear Evan Hansen has a huge fan following that has sprouted a number of social media communities in which people share their struggles and offer support.
“There are people who have found friendships online as fans of the show… I think the show is just lighting a fire under people — they feel like it’s a safe community to speak up in and it’s really, really special.”
La Rochelle, who delivers a gorgeous vocal on “Only You” (a duet with castmate Stephen Christopher Anthony, who plays Evan) describes the music in Dear Evan Hansen as "contemporary" and "fabulous."
“I’m just so proud to be part of something that is so moving, and I think all the songs really help tell the story. It’s really inspiring and exciting to be part of something that is generating conversations about mental health and helping erase that stigma ... and I’m so proud to be part of it,” she explains.
The song “You Will Be Found” has become an anthem for people who are struggling and serves to remind people that they are not alone. La Rochelle thinks what makes Dear Evan Hansen so special is that most people can identify with at least one of the characters, whether or not they are facing challenges themselves. She says at its core, the show is about relationships, and it affects everyone in a very individual way.
“Overall, it has an uplifting message and everyone walks away feeling something different," she says. "I think that’s what’s great about it and that is what is sparking those important conversations.”
Dallas Summer Musicals presents Dear Evan Hansen at the Music Hall at Fair Park from November 26 to December 8.