What's New, Buenos Aires?

One week down and everything's going awfully well. I was a little worried at first because this is a shorter rehearsal period than we usually have and yet Evita is a show that's almost entirely sung-through, with a very complex score. We had to cut a week out of music rehearsals, and we had to lose a couple run-throughs later in the schedule. I think one of the reasons our shows work so well is that we usually have nine full run-throughs before we open (mostly because we only get one preview). It's a luxury we've all gotten so used to, allowing us time to play, to explore, to experiment. And though we'll have seven full run-throughs this time (which will seem like a lot to most people), it's still less than we're used to. Also, with only one week off between closing The Wild Party and starting Evita rehearsals, I had less time to prepare.

But even with those challenges, I feel great. The cast learned the entire score last week -- including some extremely tough choral stuff. Everybody seems very psyched about the show and everybody is already working very hard.

I realized a while back -- much to my surprise at first -- that I rarely worry about the end product anymore. I almost never think about how the show will look on opening night. I work very hard to make sure we're choosing really great, really interesting, artful material to work on, and then I do my best to find the right road to take us down -- the right style, the right tone, the right visual language, the right energy -- to tell the story as clearly and honestly as possible. With shows like The Wild Party, Urinetown, or Bat Boy, that means every single moment is essentially choreographed, even if there's no real dance in the show. With shows like Grease or The Robber Bridegroom, the staging is looser, rougher, less polished. But finding that road is my only over-riding concern. Everything else comes naturally from that. We just have to stay on the road and keep moving forward.

As Little Red says in Into the Woods, "Mother said, straight ahead, not to delay or be misled." And as Buckaroo Banzai likes to say, "Remember, wherever you go, there you are." Maybe we should change New Line Theatre's nickname to "the Zen Bad Boy of Musical Theatre."

I know Evita is strong material. I know I can trust it. I also know that the way it was produced and staged on Broadway isn't the way it was originally intended. Listen to the 1976 concept album (made before the show had ever been staged), and you'll hear how different it is from the Broadway version. I love Patti LuPone, but I don't think that's how Rice and Lloyd Webber originally heard Eva in their heads. I saw the original Broadway production and I loved it, but I don't think that's the clearest, most honest way to tell this story. This is a rock & roll story, gritty and ballsy, not just in its music but in its attitude and its worldview. Most rock musicals are, at their heart, about authenticity, the touchstone of the first rock generation. Evita is no exception. Che and Eva's central conflict is about authenticity.

Eva plays several "roles" over the course of the story -- peasant girl, movie star, First Lady, saint, and ultimately, tragic heroine. But which one is the real Eva? I doubt even she knows. Interestingly, lyricist Tim Rice has given us a protagonist who seems like a villain most of the time and an antagonist who seems like a hero. But Eva clearly is the hero here. She changes, while Che does not. She goes through the various trials of the classic Hero Myth (just like Luke Skywalker and Dorothy Gale do), but she doesn't learn everything she needs to (at the end, even with everything she has, she still wants more), so her Quest is cut short (as it is for Claude in Hair or Bobby Strong in Urinetown).

I think I may like Jesus Christ Superstar more emotionally because its heroes are more honorable people, but I think Evita is the best work Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber ever created, together or apart. Both music and lyrics are really incredible. These are such rich, complex, amazing characters and storytelling -- and one of the most harmonically adventurous, rule-busting rock scores I've ever worked on. It's going to be a real joy to live inside of and to share with audiences in the coming weeks. We've got a whole cast and creative staff at the top of their game and I can't wait to see what we create.

Case in point. Yesterday, we had our first choreography rehearsal, to stage the show's only real dance number, "Buenos Aires," and though it's very complex choreography, and though Taylor (our Eva), Macia, and Michelle (the two featured dancers in the number) started an hour earlier and therefore essentially had a five-hour choreography rehearsal, again everybody gave it their all. This is such a great group of actors!

And as usual, Robin created some really cool, really interesting choreography -- exactly what the moment calls for and exactly in tune with my plans for blocking. I hope Robin never decides to retire from being our choreographer. There are some terrific choreographers in town, but no one else who takes the storytelling as seriously as I do. When I see other local choreography, it always seems like the dance steps are the focus, rather than character and plot development. I always have to laugh when Robin tells the actors (as she often does, depending on the show) that precision is less important than character, emotion, storytelling -- I doubt there's another choreographer in town who'd agree with that, much less tell the actors. But Robin and I could not be more artistically in sync -- on every single show.

Do you know what a gift that is to me?

Stay tuned. This is going to be a great ride!

Long Live the Musical!