It didn’t take Stephen Brower long to go from college in Texas to Broadway and now the leading role (opposite Lila Coogan) in the national tour of ‘Anastasia.’ (Photo courtesy Matthew Murphy)

Stephen Brower always knew he was destined for the stage. He was right — he’s now leading the national tour or ‘Anastasia’

JONANNA WIDNER | Contributing Writer
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As a gay kid growing up in Oklahoma, Stephen Brower thought florescent lights and folding chairs were “magical.” Well, in some circumstances.

“I was about 8 years old and my parents took me to see my brother in a theater-camp play,” Brower recalls. The atmosphere — with only said lights, chairs and a tiny, bare stage — blew Brower away. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I said to myself, ‘I’m doing this.’”

And he certainly did achieve that goal. His childhood was filled with dance and theater lessons, and after graduating (in just three years) with a degree from Texas State University, which offers one of the best musical theater programs in the country, Brower made the trek to the mecca for theater geeks: New York City. Tons of starry-eyed actors have the same aspirations, but once again, Brower’s childhood thoughts predicted it. “I remember taking a school trip to New York; everyone thought it was too busy and hectic. I thought it was most exciting place. I still feel that, every time I come back.”

He’s still based in NYC, but he’s not home much right now. After carving out an acting career for himself, including his Broadway debut as part of the ensemble of the hit musical Anastasia, he hit the road — a journey that this week returns him to Texas. But that’s not the only familiar territory — he’s once again appearing in Anastasia … but this time, for the national tour, he snagged the leading man role of Dmitry. (It opens at Fair Park Music Hall Tuesday, courtesy of Dallas Summer Musicals, then returns to Fort Worth’s Bass Performance Hall in May.)

The production, based on the animated musical of the same name, is a sweeping historical epic — ”I cried the first time I ever saw it,” Brower says — taking place during one of the most dramatic periods in history: The Russian Revolution. With its impressive costumes, elaborate musical numbers and stay-on-your-toes plot twists, Anastasia reflects the drama and spectacle of its era.

Brower’s beloved florescent lights have been replaced with an impressive LED projection screen that provides not just a backdrop but a dynamic, stunning, dreamy dimension to each set. “It’s so amazing,” Brower says. “I’m not sure audiences have seen anything like it.”

Brower kicked off his career after moving to New York in 2015. Unlike many who make that jump, it didn’t take him long to start working, first touring with Pippin and An American in Paris (both of which came to North Texas within the last four years), then joining Anastasia as a replacement, and understudy for the Dmitry role, on Broadway. So, are there any differences between that experience as an understudy and now on tour? Brower laughs. “The theaters! The ones on Broadway are old and creaky. The ones on tour are always much better.” (And size, too — Fair Park Music Hall’s 3,420 seats mean he and the cast will be performing for as much as three times the audience members as in New York.)

In all seriousness, though, Brower says the juxtaposition of understudy and lead are more complicated than you’d think. On tour, it’s not just a matter of stepping in for another person’s role — it’s about actually acting as a leader, not just a lead. And then, there’s what everyone who pursues acting as a calling dreams about. “It’s a chance to really make the role my own,” Brower says. “I don’t have to worry about learning all the lines, hitting all the marks. So I get to explore it.”

Ah, yes, exploring. That’s the other part of being on the road. Brower notes he is looking forward to seeing Texas again (both his parents were born here), especially getting to go back to Lee Harvey’s (“It’s a real Texas bar” he says), which he discovered the last time he was in town.

But most of all, he knows the audiences who check out Anastasia will find themselves exploring, too. “It really is a journey,” he says, “for all the characters, not just mine. It’s been so fun to see audiences react to that. It’s such a lush, beautiful production.”