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Building the ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ empire

At the 2017 Tony Award nominee luncheon, “Dear Evan Hansen” producer Stacey Mindich received some sage advice from Stuart Thompson. “If you win the Tony, step on the gas and never stop,” Mindich recalls the late producer saying. “I never forget that.

Producer Stacey Mindich, center, and the cast, creatives and co-producers of 'Dear Evan Hansen' at the 2017 Tony Awards. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

At the 2017 Tony Award nominee luncheon, “Dear Evan Hansen” producer Stacey Mindich received some sage advice from Stuart Thompson.

“If you win the Tony, step on the gas and never stop,” Mindich recalls the late producer saying. “I never forget that.”

Now almost two years into the Tony Award-winning Broadway show, the “Dear Evan Hansen” empire has expanded to include a national tour, an upcoming production in Toronto and on the West End, as well as numerous partnerships, album releases and a novel. As the show’s success has grown, Mindich has been able to check items off her bucket list, while maintaining the integrity of the original property that began it all.

One of her early bucket list items: to have theatergoers talk about the musical without describing the plot, which is both difficult to encapsulate and to market.

“I wanted to get to a place where hearing ‘Waving Through a Window’ or just the color blue, would have people say ‘Oh I know I have to see that,’” Mindich said.

To get there, the musical’s marketing team, hired around the show’s out-of-town tryout in 2015, began with a focus on fans’ reactions and their emotional connection to the show. The show began reaching out to those early fans by direct messaging links of songs before the album came out and later by creating a “virtual choir” made up of fans singing “You Will Be Found.”

“Our biggest goal was just to establish a baseline of authenticity,” said Stephanie Sciandra, the associate creative director at Situation Interactive.

Once the Broadway show recouped and had its Tony Awards in hand, the marketing team kept the momentum going by making big, innovative ad placements that created the appearance of being everywhere, without actually having to do that. For example, the show took out a billboard in Times Square over New Year’s Eve last year, and thus had the signage featured in the television broadcast.

And this past summer “Dear Evan Hansen” launched large, targeted campaigns that followed the prime theater audience to the U.S. Open and to the Hamptons, where it took out radio ads and aerial banners.

“We want to make sure that anywhere we are, the medium also becomes the message,” said Matt Upshaw, vice president of account management and insights at Serino Coyne.

In addition to its ad placements, the “Dear Evan Hansen” brand began moving into partnerships, including creating an educational curriculum with Microsoft and convening mental health panels with Time Magazine and Teen Vogue. The mental health initiatives, another early goal of Mindich’s, keep the show part of a larger cultural conversation, but also enable its cast, producers and creative team to give back.

“We are all enjoying the fact that we can do a little good,” Mindich said.

Since its opening on Dec. 4, 2016, “Dear Evan Hansen” has maintained attendance and grosses above 100% almost every week. The show’s grosses and attendance did take a slight dip below those marks for the first time this September, among a broader industry slump, but rebounded after two weeks.

Now the goal is to replicate the success of the Broadway engagement across the U.S. and in London, where Mindich has hired a casting team to look across the United Kingdom for new stars of the production — ”We feel committed to having a British cast,” Mindich said.

Mindich is beginning to incorporate marketing meetings on the London production into her schedule, with plans to return to the image of a boy with a cast as a means of introducing the show to the country. The team may also lean into the brand of the show’s composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, after the blockbuster success of the “The Greatest Showman” album in the UK.

The rest of her schedule ensures she is attuned to the ins-and-outs of her show, wherever it may be.

Once or twice a week, she watches the musical, as well as the audience, from the back of a theater, either on Broadway or at theaters on the national tour. Once a month she buys a seat to watch the entirety of the show and to see every new cast member and every understudy on stage.

She continues to hold weekly press and marketing meetings with a core team  — who she will sometimes turn to and say “Tell me how this goes, I’ve never gotten this far before” — that has largely been with her since the show’s early days, with the new additions of teams from the tour and the London production.

And on Mondays she typically works on casting, an always evolving need — though Mindich notes that finding her “Evans” for Broadway has been an atypical process as people had been emailing her for months about Taylor Trensch, during his “Hello, Dolly!” run, and with the recent discovery of Andrew Barth Feldman at the Jimmy Awards.

“When Andrew walked on stage and sang a very little bit, it hit me in the stomach,” she said.

As “Dear Evan Hansen” gets ready to celebrate its two-year anniversary, which will include the donation of items from the show to the Smithsonian Institution and a fan event at the Twitter headquarters, Mindich is already looking ahead to the next step.

“I’m just always thinking about how we can continue to tell the story, how we can keep the show top of mind for people,” Mindich said.