And I don't think that's the answer I would have given you six months ago.
Here's what I learned about myself as a theatre artist while we worked on Evita. I've been directing so long now, almost 25 years -- goddamn I am so old -- that I've stopped worrying about whether I can pull it off each time. I'm becoming more and more Zen about it all as I get older. I know now that as long as I find us the right path and make sure we stay on it, the end product is going to be something interesting and honest and, mostly just because its our taste, really aggressive. I think people are often surprised at the incredible energy coming across the footlights. We don't do calm theatre you can watch passively. We don't do safe theatre. We take chances. We challenge our audience. And people LOVE that.
With Evita, I've been thinking about our approach for more than a year, ever since we first started considering it. I hadn't worked out every detail before we went into rehearsal, but it had been swimming around in my head for a long time. So I've been pretty damn sure we were on the right path from the get-go. I knew from interviews I'd read that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber meant this show to be a chamber rock opera, not a massive political polemic. We knew from the original 1976 studio recording that the score is ten times cooler when it's allowed to be real rock and roll. I knew from reading interviews with Rice that he did not intend Eva to be a one-dimensional bitch. Taking all that together, we knew we were definitely on the right path.
Once we established our framing device of this rural movie theatre, the rules for everything else seemed pretty obvious. And that led logically to the same bare bones, intense style that we've used and loved in Bat Boy, Urinetown, High Fidelity, Assassins, The Wild Party, Love Kills, and many other New Line Theatre shows.
And it was really easy to keep us on that path. This is not just a wildly talented cast; they're also totally invested in the show and really easy to direct. No matter what odd thing I asked, they all were happy to comply. Even when I restaged "The Money Kept Rolling In" three times...
And on the topic of my wonderful cast, I've been reading this very cool book, A Sense of Direction: Some Observations on the Art of Directing, by William Ball, and I believe this paragraph so strongly I have to quote it here:
"An actor is a hero. All acting is praiseworthy if for no other reason than that the actor has the courage to walk from the wings to the center of the stage. For his entrance alone, he should be praised. Speaking takes more courage; and speaking in the person of another individual, with a commitment to a belief in that individual's emotional life, is not only praiseworthy; it is awesome. Those of us who have the opportunity to assist the actor, by making his path more smooth, are honored to aid him; and we are grateful for the great gifts he bestows upon us -- his creativity, his wit, his humanity, his suffering, his imagination, his energy, and his complete and perfect self."
And so, even though I didn't have the end product in my head the whole time, I think this process has been just as valid as a more fully pre-planned process would be. Maybe it's that I've worked so hard on developing my own process for creating a show, over so many years, that now I can really trust that process. I know it works. It never lets me down. My only agenda is to tell the story as clearly and honestly as we possily can, and let the rest take care of itself. And that trust in my process allows me to stop worrying about where we'll end up. Wherever it is, it's gonna be somewhere cool. And if the past is any indication, it's gonna be somewhere that a whole lot of other people are going to enjoy sharing with us.
The response to our Evita so far has been so much stronger than I expected. People really love it. They're deeply moved by it. Every night, a few people in the house are crying by the end. I think that emotional heft is a surprise to them because it starts out being such a cynical story. But just as Eva goes from ambitious cynic to humanitarian, so too the show itself goes from coolly cynical to intensely emotional. I think the emotion kinda sneaks up on the audience...
This show has turned out so cool and so unlike anything else we've done. I'm really proud of it, of our amazing cast, our rocking band, and our brilliant design and tech staff. What a great way to start a run!
Long Live the Musical!