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'Dear Evan Hansen' to re-launch national tour at Greensboro's Tanger Center

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GREENSBORO — On Dec. 7, Stephen Christopher Anthony will don his iconic blue polo shirt and arm cast, and become the title character in “Dear Evan Hansen.”

The performance at the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts will mark the national tour’s first public performance of the Broadway musical since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shut it down.

Anthony and Stacey Mindich, producer of the Tony Award-winning Broadway show, its London show and the national tour, speak of the emotion behind the restart.

The London show re-started Oct. 26, and the Broadway show will resume Dec. 11.

“It’s a remarkable feeling to put plans in place to relaunch all three ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ companies, though we, like everyone in the theater industry, are facing considerable challenges,” Mindich said when it was announced.

“We will proceed safely and smartly to ensure a safe and equitable workplace for everyone when we return, and protect our cast, crew and audiences amidst a world forever changed and continuously evolving due to both the global pandemic and the cultural and racial reckoning,” she added.

We hope the message of human connection and acceptance in “Dear Evan Hansen” will feel more vital than ever, Mindich said.

For Anthony, “I am not going to sleep at all the night before our first performance, I will be so excited.”

Anthony plays the anxiety-ridden teen who, through a series of misconceptions, achieves popularity through the lie that he was best friends with a student who had taken his own life.

The coming-of-age stage musical features music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, and script by Steven Levenson.

It received six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score.

Mindich describes it as “a journey with some sobriety and some humor.”

The score “is among the most gorgeous scores I’ve heard in my lifetime,” Mindich said, “so I hope people feel something for the music.”

It’s recommended for ages 12 and older. But it could be appropriate for a very sophisticated child who might be a little younger, Mindich said.

Anthony has been in rehearsals in New York for the national tour’s restart.

“There hasn’t been a single day since March 2020 that I haven’t thought about that first day back, about doing this piece again,” he said before starting the day’s rehearsal.

“It’s such an intimate piece that we do, and the people I got to work with in it really became like family,” he said. “We share such vulnerable parts of ourselves with each other and we really have to take care of each other.”

Anthony’s credits include playing con-man Frank Abagnale Jr. in the first national tour of “Catch Me If You Can.”

In 2013, he joined the Broadway ensemble of “Book of Mormon.”

The “Dear Evan Hansen” stage musical opened on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre in December 2016.

In 2018, Anthony understudied the role of Evan Hansen on Broadway for two months. Then he opened the first national tour as the Evan alternate at matinee performances.

In 2019, he took over the role full-time on tour, playing Evan up until the pandemic shutdowns in March 2020.

The tour was performing in Salt Lake City, Utah, when it happened.

“The logistics of getting all these people home was so overwhelming,” Mindich said in an interview last week.

“Maybe they have family, maybe they have an apartment they pay rent on,” Mindich said, “but a lot of the kids in our company are young and it’s easier not to pay rent somewhere and live on tour where we pay for everything. So we had to find places for everyone ...”

Anthony didn’t have a New York apartment back then. He booked a flight to Miami, to stay with his family.

His website recounts how he spent his pandemic time.

“Existential panic, lots of it,” it says. “Got a puppy. Developed a love for cooking. Read a million books. Yoga. Chose violence during Settlers of Catan (board game). Learned how to make friendship bracelets. Moved back to N.Y. Cried about not having purpose. Got vaccinated!! Spent so much family time. Took classes in political science. Stopped taking classes in political science. A number of virtual events through Broadway Plus! Rewatched the entirety of ‘Community’ on Hulu, yet again.”

In August, he spent three weeks teaching voice and music directing at Florida State University’s Music Theatre Intensive for rising high school seniors.

Now he’s back in New York, about to leave on tour. His dog will stay with his partner. They plan to visit him as often as possible, Anthony said.

Rehearsals gave Anthony and other cast members “time to slow down with it again, to reinvestigate what the show means to us now, on the other side of everything we have been through for the last year and a half,” he said.

“We’re all completely different people,” Anthony said. “Our understanding of ourselves and therefore the show is new and special in a really cool way.”

Anthony describes it as a show “about reaching out for connection, when you need to be understood and you feel all alone in the world.”

“We went through very different experiences over the last year and a half,” he said. “You can’t say any two people’s experience was exactly the same. But I know to some degree we all experienced that feeling of loneliness while we were quarantined. We all experienced some sort of grief, some sort of anxiety. It drove home for me how much we need people in our lives, how much we need close confidants, a support system.”

“That’s what this cast and this company has always been for me,” Anthony said. “And it’s sort of the message of this show.”

His character, Anthony added, “is definitely complicated ... I can be a couple hundred performances in and still discovering new things about him, still discovering new ways that he relates to the people around him. ...”

In subtle ways, the musical tackles the messages of mental health.

“More universally, it’s about people trying to find connection, which is very relevant for this moment in our society,” Mindich said.

All three productions will hold a special performance to honor mental health care workers and volunteers, who will be invited to attend as guests.

The producers and the Tanger Center have invited front-line mental health care workers and advocates to a private performance.

From the Tanger Center, “Dear Evan Hansen” will move to West Palm Beach, Fla., and then to 28 other cities around the country in the third year of the show’s tour.

“I hope that people leave feeling hope, and that they are a little less alone than when they came in,” Mindich said.

“At its heart, it’s a play about parents and children ... and that is all of us in one way or another,” she said. “I hope that people see something of themselves in one of these characters ...”

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

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