TORONTO - The Toronto International Film Festival is welcoming Hollywood celebrities back to the red carpet as organizers look to revive the event's big-screen magic in spite of pandemic precautions.
TIFF kicked off with the premiere of musical "Dear Evan Hansen" at Roy Thomson Hall on Thursday night, ringing in a return to theatres after the COVID-19 crisis largely limited last year's festival to digital and drive-in screenings.
But even as the global glitterati once again graced Toronto, the 10-day hybrid festival seemed to lack some of the star-powered fanfare of previous years.
Director Stephen Chbosky said he's 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-tailored festival felt like "coming home."
"We didn't even know if there was going to be a TIFF," he said. "We just went for the first crowd, hundreds of people in the audience. I'm still kind of buzzing from it. It's remarkable."
Based on the Tony Award-winning musical, "Dear Evan Hansen" sees Ben Platt reprise his Broadway role as a socially anxious high school student who gets caught up in a web of deception following the death of a classmate.
Platt, Julianne Moore and Amandla Stenberg were among the actors in attendance at the gala.
But rather than being greeted by throngs of fans, the cast was shielded from public view as they walked the red carpet.
The trio did take a bow before the audience after Thursday night's screening, taking to the stage with Nik Dodani, Colton Ryan and Danny Pino.
But many star gazers reported a dearth of celebrity sightings outside the heavily guarded venue.
As she waited in line to take her seat, Brenna Russell thought she spotted Platt walking into the theatre.
But after taking out her phone to snap a photo, the 17-year-old musical theatre student realized she'd mistaken the identity of the masked figure.
"I did think it was him, because I saw the curly hair and kind of lanky body," she said. "When he walked closer, we saw it wasn't him. But we got hopeful there for a second."
Mackenzie and Ezra Wayland were excited to experience their first in-person TIFF upon moving to Toronto to study media production and film this fall.
Mackenzie Wayland expected the city to be bustling with celebrities and crowds of fellow cinephiles, but instead, all she found outside the opening-night venue was rush-hour traffic.
"It's really exciting to finally be able to go and be a part of the festivities," said Ezra Wayland, clad in a TIFF T-shirt. "Not that there's much festivities this year."
While TIFF is touting a number of world-famous celebrities on its guest list, some international actors, industry members and media are opting to stay home this year.
Many A-listers who made the rounds at the Venice Film Festival aren't slated to promote the same titles in-person at TIFF, including "Dune" stars Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya.
— with files from The Associated Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2021.