Evita logo courtesy of the Everest Academy for the Arts
The Everest Academy for the Arts presents its production of Evita, by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, on Thursday through Sunday, August 4-7, 2011. Performances begin at 7:30 pm each evening and will be held at the DC Everest Senior High School Theatre, 6500 Alderson Street, Schofield, WI. Advance tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors, available from ShowTix4U.com. Tickets will be $2 more at the door, if available.
On Thursday evening, July 28, 2011, director Christian Ammon invited The Theater Community into the rehearsal space at DC Everest Senior High School for a preview of the Everest Academy for the Arts upcoming production of Evita. This is the second season for the Academy, and Ammon’s second season directing for them. Regular theater-goers will recall the Academy’s inaugural production of Miss Saigon from last summer.
The Choice of Evita
Mr. Ammon, a social studies teacher at DC Everest Junior High School by day, and a self-proclaimed history fanatic, selected Evita because, “I’ve been in and directed a lot of shows that were about history, but this show is history.” And so it is. The basis of the show is the tumultuous, often controversial, life of María Eva Duarte de Perón (1919-1952), the second wife of Argentinian president Juan Perón. She is generally referred to simply as "Eva Perón", or in the diminutive, "Evita". (Tacking an "ita" onto a girl’s name or an "ito" onto a boy’s name in Spanish is the equivalent of adding a "y" or "ie" in English. "Bob" becomes "Bobby", "Sue" becomes "Susie", and "Eva" becomes "Evita".)
[The Perons] are essentially the Kennedys. They don’t do much, but people love them; and when one of them dies everyone freaks out.
-Evita cast member, UWGB Sophomore, suspected political conservative
That sentiment was taken further by Nicole Duhaime, a University of Wisconsin – Green Bay sophomore majoring in Vocal Music Education and member of the Evita ensemble. “It’s not just a play about history. It’s about corruption and politics and power.”
It was a fascination with the story of Eva Perón that drove lyricist Tim Rice to enlist composer Andrew Lloyd Webber to bring her story to the stage. In fact, it was a fascination with the story of Eva Perón that drove lyricist Tim Rice to name his first child "Eva". Perón rose from poverty at the height of the Great Depression, made a career for herself in an age when women did not have careers, married a rising star in Argentinian politics, Juan Perón, who would become President, became the Vice President of the country herself, and died at age 33 as perhaps the most beloved figure in Argentine history. Along the way, the Peróns were involved in both actual and alleged sex scandals and both actual and alleged political corruption, engendering both fanatical supporters and fanatical enemies. In short, the stuff of great theater.
Putting Evita together
Like last year’s Miss Saigon, Evita is a sung-through musical, meaning there is next to no spoken dialogue, putting the music front and center. Given the success of last year’s show, Ammon reassembled his entire production crew from Saigon. Orchestra conductor Patrick Phalen put together an 18 member orchestra for the show. Asked how many different instruments those eighteen musicians would be playing during the run of the show, Phalen said, “Oh my God, I have absolutely no idea. Tons.” The orchestra will be located outside of the theater, in a sound stage constructed in the school’s band room. Using the remote orchestra allows sound designer Abe Gabor more control over the mix of music and vocals. “And Abe is a master at that,” according to co-vocal director Brian Gerrish, chorus director at DC Everest Junior High for the past four years.
Vocal directors Donna Petree (left) and Brian Gerrish (right) confer with sound designer Abe Gabor (center) at rehearsal.
"Co-vocal director" because there are two vocal directors for this show. Gerrish is teamed with Donna Petree, who was a high school chorus director in Dallas before relocating to Wausau where she spent 11 years as an elementary school music teacher, then six years as at Horace Mann Middle School. Now retired, Petree is even more active in community based theater than she was when she was working. “I’ll go straight from this show into [Wausau Community Theater's] Oklahoma, then right into West High School’s fall show.” Petree said it was a blessing to have two vocal directors for this show. While one of them was playing music during rehearsal, the other could devote their entire attention to the singers’ voices. And with two sets of ears listening, issues were caught and corrected earlier in the process. A good thing, since, as Gerrish notes, “There are some extremely complex and difficult parts.”
During Thursday evening’s rehearsal, I asked Gerrish if the cast had risen to the challenges of the music. His reply? “Have you been listening? I mean, wow!” I had been listening, and it was, in fact, a stupid question.
With the solid vocals to build on, the rest of the staff had the job of creating the visual spectacle for Evita. Technical director Mike Wasilczuk has delivered a set that includes moving staircases with lighting instruments built into them and an eight foot thrust extension on the front of the stage itself. Erin Purcell, a teacher’s aid placed in Wausau through AmeriCorps, with a Bachelor of Arts in Theater, and a member of the Evita ensemble, said, “I look at the lighting designer, the set designer, the sound designer, and I think, ‘What are these guys doing in Wausau? They should be working in Chicago.’”
Why you should see Evita
In talking with the cast, the staff, and the crew on this production, there is one consistent, recurring theme, and Purcell touched on it with her Chicago reference. “This is an extremely high caliber production,” said Brian Gerrish when asked why people should come to the show.
Mikayla Finnegan, 12 years old and a member of the children’s chorus, was in her school’s recent production of Anne of Green Gables and told me, “[Evita]‘s a really enjoyable story and a lot of good actors are doing a really good job.” Sara Veenstra, also 12 and also a member of the children’s chorus, appearing here in her first production outside of church plays, emphasized, “There are a lot of really good actors.” Beyond her praise for the technical crew, Erin Purcell “would just mention the incredible amount of talent here. There are triple threats everywhere you look,” alluding to the elusive actor/singer/dancer combination sought for every musical production.
As of this writing, tickets for all performances of the Everest Academy for the Arts production of Evita are still available from ShowTix4U.com. The Theater Community recommends acting soon, though. Two dollars more at the door is one thing, but missing this show because you put off buying a ticket would be something else all together. Argentina would cry for you.