LONDON — For proof that theatrical lightning can certainly strike twice, take into account the completely happy case of “Dear Evan Hansen.” The Tony Award-winning Broadway musical has opened in London on the Noël Coward Theater, introducing us to one more newcomer with real expertise. This time, the title function is performed by 21-year-old Sam Tutty, a latest drama faculty graduate, who’s greater than succesful of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the present’s earlier main males.
Ben Platt originated the function on Broadway, incomes a Tony Award earlier than shifting into the worlds of TV and movie. It’s too early to inform the place the director Michael Greif’s manufacturing will lead Tutty. (Marcus Harman, his alternate, performs the anxious Evan at sure performances.) But in a present predicated on the galloping impact of a lie, it actually helps to have a central performer who communicates an unerring reality.
Taking up a West End perch simply minutes away from acquainted Broadway titles like “Come From Away” and “Waitress,” “Dear Evan Hansen” furthers the sensation that there isn’t a want for Londoners to journey to New York to see a present; chances are high, quickly it will likely be over right here.
There’s equally little cause to doubt the power of the round-faced, emotionally open Tutty to search out his personal manner into the doubtless tic-laden half of Evan, whose path towards self-discovery comes on the human price of the suicide of a classmate, Connor (Doug Colling), whose spectral presence is essential to the present from past the grave. Despite Evan barely understanding Connor, the labyrinthine shifts in Steven Levenson’s e-book, which additionally received a Tony, deliver him instantly into the orbit of Connor’s grieving dad and mom, roles superbly taken right here by Lauren Ward and Rupert Young.
The rating by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul trades closely on anthemic appeals to self-assertion that echo “This Is Me,” their Oscar-nominated track from the film “The Greatest Showman.” And if that typically leads to an on-the-nose earnestness at odds with the English choice for irony, Tutty silences any objections with a direct attraction to the center: the tears he elicits from the viewers are truthfully earned.
“Dear Evan Hansen” has the more and more uncommon musical theater advantage of being a real unique, which is to say primarily based neither on a film nor on the again catalog of a music trade titan. That’s greater than may be mentioned for “& Juliet,” which tethers the chart-topping output of the Swedish pop producer and songwriter Max Martin to “Romeo and Juliet,” and so ponders what might happen were Juliet able to live to see another day.
Short answer: Juliet would end up a self-empowered heroine given to lung-busting covers of songs by Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson and Ariana Grande, to name just a few of the pop stars for whom Martin has penned or produced career-identifying hits over the years.
The show is directed by Luke Sheppard, who previously shepherded “In the Heights” to London, and looks set to run at the Shaftesbury Theater for as long as a vocal demographic can be found to roar in approval to such songs as “Roar.” (That one, you may recall, was a major hit for Katy Perry.) Far from succumbing to a premature death, this Juliet lives on to quickly discover that her beloved Romeo was in fact an unrepentant cad and that she possesses a self that is worth finding, to co-opt the psychological discourse trafficked by “Dear Evan Hansen.”
Some will take pleasure in hearing nearly 30 proven hits repurposed to suit the occasion, the score of “& Juliet” including one new number, “One More Try,” that has been recorded separately by the English performer Jessie J.
Others may ask for rather more than a cumbersome attempt to pen a show-within-a-show that nods structurally toward “Kiss Me, Kate.” Someone really does remark in passing, “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” and William Shakespeare and his wife, Anne Hathaway, are on hand throughout the show as sparring partners in the style of Fred and Lilli from that earlier Cole Porter classic. Elsewhere, you may wince afresh when the likable Oliver Tompsett, playing a hipster-looking Shakespeare, says near the end, “There will never be another Anne Hathaway” — before stealing a knowing glance at the audience.
Miriam-Teak Lee’s ebullient Juliet is seen departing Verona for Paris, which is to say the city, not the dreary swain handpicked for her by her parents. Once there, she falls in with a diverse sexual and social landscape that includes something (or someone) for all tastes, from the nonbinary May (Arun Blair-Mangat, a vocal powerhouse) to Juliet’s ever-sassy nurse (Melanie La Barrie), who falls under the renewed spell of Lance (David Bedella, the American performer here sporting a faux-Gallic accent).
A little of this, to be honest, went a very long way, but I confess to hardly being the preferred demographic for a show that clearly wants to rival the Broadway-bound “Six” in the pop-anthem sweepstakes, while reminding us of another musical steeped in Scandinavian talent (“Mamma Mia!”) that began modestly and, well, look where it is now.
Coming in comparatively under the radar is the most ravishing musical entry of the season, “Ghost Quartet.” This version of the Dave Malloy musical seen in New York in 2014 christens a new theater, the Boulevard, whose intimacy only emphasizes the barnlike nature of so many Broadway and West End musical houses.
The setting turns out to be ideally suited to Bill Buckhurst’s stylish production in which a cast of four, including the 2019 Olivier nominee Zubin Varla, play various instruments while making their way through a 90-minute song cycle that is divided into four parts, as if one were watching an album unfold onstage.
What does it all mean? “Ghost Quartet” resists precise explication even as it folds the likes of Thelonious Monk, “Arabian Nights” and Edgar Allan Poe into a shimmering aural collage that comes with a shot of whiskey for those who want it. Ghosts do indeed figure here and there, alongside a spoken need “to let the dead be dead,” but however haunted the landscape, “Ghost Quartet” casts its own singular, truly vital spell.