Hollywood stars

Hollywood stars return to the TIFF red carpet for the premiere of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’

TORONTO — The Toronto International Film Festival welcomes Hollywood celebrities to the red carpet as organizers seek to rekindle the big-screen magic of the event despite pandemic precautions.

TIFF kicked off with the premiere of the musical ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ at Roy Thomson Hall on Thursday evening, marking a return to theaters after the COVID-19 crisis largely limited last year’s festival to digital screenings and by car.

But even as global celebrities once again graced Toronto, the 10-day hybrid festival seemed to lack some of the fanfare of previous years.

Director Stephen Chbosky said he has had a special relationship with TIFF since his first studio film, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” debuted at the festival in 2021.

Chbosky said having “Dear Evan Hansen” open this year’s pandemic-friendly festival felt like “coming home.”

“We didn’t even know if there would be a TIFF,” he said. “We just went to get the first crowd, hundreds of people in the audience. I still have the buzz. It’s amazing.

Based on the Tony Award-winning musical, “Dear Evan Hansen” sees Ben Platt reprise his role on Broadway as a socially anxious high school student who finds himself caught in a web of deception after the death of a classmate.

Platt, Julianne Moore and Amandla Stenberg were among the cast at the gala.

But rather than being greeted by throngs of fans, the actors were shielded from public view as they walked the red carpet.

The trio bowed to the audience after Thursday night’s screening, taking the stage with Nik Dodani, Colton Ryan and Danny Pino.

But many stargazers have reported a dearth of celebrity sightings outside the heavily guarded location.

As she stood in line to be seated, Brenna Russell thought she saw Platt entering the theater.

But after pulling out her phone to snap a photo, the 17-year-old musical student realized she had been mistaken about the identity of the masked figure.

“I thought it was him, because I saw the curly hair and the lanky body,” she said. “When he approached, we saw that it was not him. But we had hope there for a second.

Mackenzie and Ezra Wayland were thrilled to experience their first TIFF in person after moving to Toronto to study media production and filmmaking this fall.

Mackenzie Wayland expected the city to be teeming with celebrities and crowds of moviegoers, but instead all she found outside the opening hall was hourly traffic peak.

“It’s really exciting to finally be able to join in the festivities,” said Ezra Wayland, wearing a TIFF t-shirt. “Not that there are many festivities this year.”

While TIFF boasts a number of world-famous celebrities on its guest list, some international actors, industry members and media are choosing to stay home this year.

Many A-listers who made the rounds at the Venice Film Festival aren’t expected to promote the same titles in person at TIFF, including “Dune” stars Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya.

– with files from the Associated Press

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 9, 2021.