BWW Interview: Anthony Focuses on role, Cartoon Network as He Takes Lead in DEAR EVAN HANSEN
When Stephen Christopher Anthony first saw the show DEAR EVAN HANSEN, he marveled at the performance of Benjamin Platt, his former cast mate in THE BOOK OF MORMON, in the title role. Platt went on to win the 2017 Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for his portrayal of Hansen.
"I saw the show early on in its run and it hit me like a truck," Anthony said in a telephone interview from Washington D.C. "I remember crying in the back of the standing room section of the Music Box Theatre (in New York City). I was just so grateful that a show like this existed.
"I went back stage and hugged Ben. I remember asking him, 'How do you do this role every single day?' He said, 'You just get out there and you figure it out. And you watch a lot of cartoons in between shows' I'm still holding on to that advice."
Anthony will be spending a lot of time watching the Cartoon Network when the national tour of DEAR EVAN HANSEN rolls into Columbus Sept. 17-23 at the Ohio Theatre. The stopover will not only be Anthony's first visit to Columbus but it'll also mark his debut as the full time title character. The show, which was written by Steven Levenson with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, speaks to such weighty topics of teenage isolation, depression, and suicide. Anthony, who has served as an Evan understudy and performed the title role at least twice a week, takes the responsibility very seriously.
"(When I found out I was going to take over the title role,) I just started crying," Anthony said. "I was in such state of disbelief. I am still kind of pinching myself. So many people I've met tell me they see themselves in Evan. It's a privilege and a responsibility I don't take lightly.'
"After every performance, I get all these messages in my inbox saying thank you, thank you for being a part of this message. It's not just Evan. That's one of the great things about this show. There are eight different characters on stage from all walks of life so the audience can find themselves in one of these characters. I mean, who hasn't felt alone at some point? Who hasn't felt that no one can possibly understand what they are going through?"
Anthony takes over after playing Jared Kleinman, Evan's friend, and Connor Murphy, the catalyst for the show. The Miami native said playing those characters as well as being Ben Levi Ross' understudy as Evan, prepared him to take over the role.
"One of the thing I've found is Evan and Connor are a lot more similar than you might think," Anthony said. "Both characters feel 'I am totally alone in this.' They deal with it in very different ways. It's a poignant reminder that if we could all sit down with each other and really talk honestly about what's going on, we might find we're all more alike than we lead on."
EVAN HANSEN is about as about as far away from the show Anthony performed with Platt on Broadway, THE BOOK OF MORMON. Anthony served as an understudy for Elder McKinley. People who have seen him perform in both shows marvel at the difference aura he brings to the two shows.
"That's one of the things I really love about theater. There are so many varieties of roles to play," he said. "BOOK OF MORMON was a joy because making people laugh is healing as well. (DEAR EVAN HANSEN) is healing in a very different way. At the end of the day, it's just story telling."
From the time he was 10 years old, Anthony knew he wanted to make the stage his home.
"I've been singing and playing piano since I could speak," he said with a laugh. "I played all these sports as a kid and never really enjoyed it.
"My mom encouraged me to audition for my first play (THE SECRET GARDEN) and I was too nervous and didn't want to go. I finally agreed to audition and I came back from that first rehearsal and said this is what I am going to do for the rest of my life."
After attending middle school and high school for the performing arts in Miami, he enrolled at Florida State and received a degree in musical theater.
"Florida State taught me how to be a student," Anthony said. "I am still learning every time I go on for Evan. I am still learning new things about my character and new things about myself in every performance."
"The biggest key for taking on this role is keeping the pressure off yourself. It is such an intensely personal and intimate show so it can't be the same experience every night. You have to walk on to the stage without any expectations. I'm really excited to get out there and live it every single day."
CAPA presents the national tour of DEAR EVAN HANSEN with shows at the Ohio Theatre (39 E. State Street in downtown COlumbus) at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17-19, 8 p.m. Sept 20-21 with afternoon performances 2 p.m. Sept. 21, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 22.