Theater

Local Actors Lead Dear Evan Hansen at the Arsht Center

Miami actor Stephen Christopher Anthony plays the lead, Evan Hansen, in the touring production of Dear Evan Hansen.
Miami actor Stephen Christopher Anthony plays the lead, Evan Hansen, in the touring production of Dear Evan Hansen. Photo by Matthew Murphy
For Stephen Christopher Anthony and Ciara Alyse Harris, starring in the national tour of a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical after the pandemic shut down the industry for two years is a dream come true.

Even better is doing so in their hometown.

Anthony and Harris, both Miami natives and New World School of the Arts alumni, lead the cast of Dear Evan Hansen, which runs through February 20 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

Anthony, who plays the titular role, grew up in Palmetto Bay and says beach days with his family are his favorite childhood memories of living here. After attending New World for high school, he studied musical theater at Florida State University and has been performing on Broadway and national tours and in regional productions ever since.

As a kid, Anthony remembers sitting in the Arsht Center audience to see The Light in the Piazza, an experience he describes as "life-changing." Now he returns to the venue as a performer.

"It's pretty surreal to be getting up on that stage in the theater where I was so inspired to pursue my career," Anthony says.

Harris, who plays Alana Beck in the show, grew up in Miami Gardens. Theater, baseball, and Miami were central to her upbringing. (Her father, Lenny Harris, was a member of the Marlins' World Series championship team in 2003.) Just two months after graduating from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in 2018, Harris booked the role on the Dear Evan Hansen national tour.

Harris says growing up in such a diverse environment, especially while going to New World, was indispensable.

"Growing up in Miami at that school really helped me grow into an individual performer," she explains. "That was something I took for granted once I went to school in Cincinnati, where there aren't as many people of color and weren't as many Black kids."

Dear Evan Hansen, which explores mental health and its intersection with social media, centers on a teen on the fringes of high school social life who, in an effort to fit in, gets caught in a spiral of lies. It debuted on Broadway in 2016 and won six Tony Awards and a Grammy.

"It's an important conversation starter for families, for kids, and for people with mental health issues," Harris says. "We are all just humans trying to be human, and it can get really easy to feel like we're the only people feeling the way we're feeling."

The cast is only here for a week, and most of that time will be spent in rehearsals and performances. But while they're home, Anthony and Harris will be visiting family and showing fellow cast members around Miami.
click to enlarge The cast of Dear Evan Hansen - PHOTO BY MATTHEW MURPHY
The cast of Dear Evan Hansen
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Harris, who spent the pandemic in South Florida, plans to get a massage with her mother at the Fontainebleau and have a meal at her favorite local restaurant, Houston's steakhouse.

"We're all excited to be around culture and really good food," she says.

Anthony is ready for a taste of home, too.

"I'm hoping for at least one good breakfast at Sergio's," he says, "and maybe one good late-night trip to Los Perros."

After the Miami run, the tour is scheduled to stop in 20 more cities. Anthony and Harris say they're more than excited to be back performing.

Anthony has been in the cast since the tour began in 2018, and when COVID shut it down in March 2020, he was fearful for the future. (Dear Evan Hansen was originally slated for the Arsht Center in the spring of 2021.)

"I've done one thing since I was 11 years old, and it just went away from one day to the next," Anthony says. "I embraced the slower pace; I learned to be happy with less. And I think that kind of soft acceptance has made me even more open to sharing my heart more deeply as Evan."

The tour relaunched on December 7 in Greensboro, North Carolina. For Anthony, returning to the stage was daunting.

"After two years of isolation, the idea of getting up in front of thousands of strangers and baring my soul was very foreign and intimidating. But once we opened, I felt right at home," he says. "And we're giving it absolutely everything, because we realize how quickly it can all disappear from one day to the next."

So far, Harris says, the show has gone on with no major COVID outbreaks. The cast is tested every day.

"We've been so safe, but of course it's very scary. I mean, we already have these very fleeting jobs," Harris explains. "There's a lot of things we're constantly thinking about. But all we can do is keep moving forward and be grateful."

Other than the fact that two leads are locals, Anthony and Harris want Miamians to see the show for its powerful message.

"I hope you will come to cheer very loudly for your hometown boy," Anthony says. "But also because after the two years we've had, we all need to know we're not alone. We need a place to come together and laugh and cry and hopefully walk away having great conversations."

Dear Evan Hansen. 8 p.m. Wednesday, February 16, through Friday, February 18; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, February 19' and 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday, February 20; at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $40 to $135.
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