I had about four months off between Love Kills and The Wild Party and it nearly killed me. My mind and body are specifically evolved to make musical theatre and nothing else, so when I'm not doing that, I feel totally lost. In stark contrast, I get just one week off between The Wild Party and the beginning of rehearsals for Evita. Seriously. One week. And it's not really a week "off" since I have to do a shitload of prep. Yes, it's better than four months off, but I'd prefer just a little more time... I know, I know, stop whining you little bitch!
I've always loved Evita, ever since I first saw Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin, and Bob Gunton in the original Broadway production. As much as I love Jesus Christ Superstar, I do think Evita is a stronger, more mature score. It's definitely my kind of show, dark, cynical, nasty, very Brechtian; but the original production was so massive and I never really saw a way for New Line to do it. But when we were deciding on shows for this season, I realized I was in the right artistic place to take this on. I found my way into the material.
If you know the show, you know the first scene is set in a movie theatre in Argentina. As the audience watches the film (and they always use a film that Eva was actually in), it is interrupted by a voice announcing Eva's death. The audience becomes mourners at her funeral, then Che emerges and tells us the story of Eva's rise from poor rural teenager to the First Lady of Argentina. In our production, we will never leave that small, rural movie theatre; instead, the movie audience will collectively reenact Eva's life as their way of mourning their beloved Evita. The set will consist almost exclusively of chairs. (I explored the use of chairs as set with Assassins, and now I'm ready to take that idea further.)
The other thing about our approach is that we're going to return stylistically to the very first studio recording that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber made of their show in 1976 (with Julie Covington and a very young Colm Wilkinson), before anyone had staged it. It sounds way more like Jesus Christ Superstar, more rock and roll, more intense, more visceral. Since rock and roll (in its pure form) has always been the Voice of the People, it seems the perfect language for this story of a populist political movement. (I will never understand why the stage versions moved away from that rock sound...)
One of the reasons Evita finally seemed like the right fit for New Line is its surprising relevance today in our polarized, highly charged, political life. In very real, concrete ways, Eva's rise is extremely parallel to the rise of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and yes, Barack Obama, all of whom claim to be populists, all of whom are adored by their "fans" and utterly despised by their detractors. (I'm sure I think Beck is as dangerous as the Tea Baggers think Obama is...) I've realized over the last few years (I am quite the political junkie) that it's not just that America has split into two groups with different opinions about where are country should go; it's scarier than that because we've actually split into two groups that can't even agree on the facts about where our country is. Glenn Beck now refers to the Obama administration as "Crime Inc." (I wish I were kidding) and Sarah Palin is convinced there were "death panels" in the healthcare bill. How do you reach compromise when you can't agree on the facts of the situation? All that ugliness and division is part of the story of Eva Peron and I think people will be astonished at how close the parallels are.
I've learned so much from the amazing, ground-breaking shows we've worked on at New Line -- Bat Boy, Urinetown, Assassins, The Wild Party, A New Brain, and many others -- and I think all those lessons are going to come together for me in Evita. We've got an incredible cast, including five people from the equally incredible Wild Party cast. And we've got three of my favorite actors in the world in our leads -- Taylor Pietz (who was utterly shattering and brilliant in Love Kills) as Eva; John Sparger (who has been likewise brilliant in New Line's Hair, JC Superstar, Johnny Appleweed) as Che; and Todd Schaefer (who has been brilliant in our Bat Boy, Hedwig, Hair, Sunday in the Park with George, and lots of others) playing Peron. We've also got some great new folks and some of New Line's most interesting veteran actors. It's exactly the cast I need to make my ideas work.
Luckily, I've known this show by heart since I saw the original production, and I've been thinking about my approach for about a year now, so the minimal prep time probably won't be a issue...
It's very hard to turn my brain (and my heart) away from The Wild Party, truly one of the greatest experiences of my almost thirty years in musical theatre (fuck me! am I really that old?). But I can't wait to get started on Evita! I'm no fan of the mediocre shows Lloyd Webber shit out later in his career (awful, clumsy crap like Phantom, Starlight Express, Sunset Blvd., Whistle Down the Wind, etc.), but I love his early work with Tim Rice, who challenged him artistically like his later, painfully bad collaborators never did. I think Evita is the best writing that either Rice or Lloyd Webber ever did. And it's going to be a blast working on it.
Because of our unusual, minimalist approach, there are going to be lots of moments that require really clever solutions, but I know we'll find them. With this cast, and with Todd, Thommy Crain, and Ken Zinkl designing the show, I'll have all the talent and support around me I need...
Long Live the Musical!