No matter how many times he rehearses it, director Michael Greif will never tire of the emotional journey of Dear Evan Hansen’s “For Forever”—which is fortunate, since he officially opened his fourth production of the global smash in London’s West End last month. In fact, Greif, who earned his fourth Tony nomination for directing the 2016 show, relishes every opportunity to revisit the musical.
“The first time you’re working on a show, the ground beneath you is almost constantly shifting,” Greif says of building an original musical. “It’s really wonderful to fully know and communicate to every character where they’re beginning and where they’re ending, and you really get to investigate every moment with a little more assurance.”
Now, Greif can chart with certainty the arc of the paralyzingly anxious teen who finds a window to acceptance when a tragedy leads to both an unexpected web of lies and self-discovery through a confrontation of truths.
Still, mounting a new production is not like re-hanging a painting on a new wall. Even with a “finished” musical, elements shift—be it a new choice by an actor, new harmony for the end of “Only Us” (which debuts in London), or line adjustments for a British audience.
Greif worked rigorously with the British cast to capture the stakes of singularly American circumstances, particularly when it comes to the cost of higher education. “We spoke a lot to the British cast about what the disparity and cost is between elite universities and less elite universities,” says Greif, “and to translate the enormous disparity of the American system in terms of what a community college would cost rather than a private college.”
Whether across the pond or in the U.S., Greif enjoys working with new Evans to illuminate nuances in a character Greif helped create. “It’s been really important to me that whoever steps into that shirt is given permission to find his most anxious, most self-doubting, but also most courageous and vulnerable selves,” he says.
Of all the actors who’ve played Evan thus far, Greif notes, London’s Sam Tutty seems the most confident in his real life, “so it was particularly rewarding to watch him investigate how every interaction, every transaction could be threatening.”
Greif deftly calibrates the combination of fresh choices and familiar touchstones with every iteration of the musical that he first shepherded to Broadway, and the show has shaped Greif and his directorial approach just as much as Greif has shaped the show. “It’s helped me trust in the absolute power of raw emotion on stage,” he says. And that’s something audiences will relish for forever.