‘Evita’ told from the cast perspective

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Last week I had some free time on my hands and decided to visit Jax Vadney, the technical director of the Schuster Theatre. This is a hectic time there, as the students are preparing for the spring musical “Evita.” When Jax showed me the cast, orchestra and production team list, I was taken aback by the scale of this musical. Over 40 individuals are directly involved in the process, not to mention the many volunteers without whom this wouldn’t be possible. Since the story is so intricate, I figured it would make more sense to let you hear directly from the cast. Their voices bring to life the story of Eva Peron. Here’s what they had to say:

Jax Vadney as director and so much more…

“The cast of ‘Evita’ is comprised of 14 Gannon students and two children from the community.  Some of our Gannon students are veterans to the stage, and others are making their first appearance on the Schuster stage.  ‘Evita’ itself is a large and exceptionally well―known musical.  So from veteran performer to new actor, this can be a daunting task to bring this show to the stage.

Students have been working around the clock since the beginning of March, learning over 22 songs, choreography and blocking for dance numbers and scenes, as well as learning about how to coordinate all of the aspects of the production behind the scenes.  The cast is led by sophomore Allie Leng as Eva Peron, senior Zak Westfall as Che, and junior Michael Haas as Juan Peron.  All of these students are experienced with the dynamics of the Schuster Theatre (the acoustics, the intimacy of the space, etc).  However, all of them are in roles that push them through music, emotion and character development.  They are bringing new choices to rehearsals from the work they are doing outside of rehearsal times.  It is wonderful to see them reflect and explore choices in discovery of who these people are and how to tell Eva’s story.”

Allie Leng as Eva Peron

“My biggest challenge in playing Eva has been capturing who she truly is because she was such an idolized person in the musical portrays her in a way that is larger than life. I have overcome the struggle by interacting with the other actors and learning more about who Eva was as a person to portray her accurately.

“My favorite song is ‘Buenos Aires’ because it’s a fun, energetic piece that involves all members of the cast. It also shows the audience the different classes in Argentina, giving them an idea of what the country was like at the time.

“The show captures the true spirit of the nation of Argentina during the life and times of Eva Peron. It inspires how one person can make a difference in the lives of many.”

Zak Westfall as Che

“This musical has taught me the importance of rest as well as physical health. It is a vocally demanding show since it is completely sung through.

“This process is my last show at Gannon so it’s been amazing for me to look back on everything I’ve done while I’ve been here and how far I’ve come. I started in a completely different major and now I’ll be pursuing an MFA in acting.”

Michael Haas as Juan Peron

“‘Evita’ is great not only from a historical perspective but also as a contemporary allegory for our current political state. The show is brilliant in its use of complex socioeconomic issues to propel a narrative forward.

“As an actor, I enjoy the ability to infuse a historical character with my own flair. As a student, I’m strengthening my vocal abilities while participating in a play that, while older, still remains relevant today — specially with politicians like Clinton and Trump. There are also interesting connections to Shakespearean influences of Macbeth and pop culture similarities to’ House of Cards.’

“My favorite line Juan says is, ‘It’s annoying that we have to fight elections for our cause. The inconvenience having to get a majority. If normal methods of persuasion fail to win us applause, there are other ways of establishing authority.’ Why? It’s fun to play basically the Trump of 1940s Argentina.

“For me, the take -home message is that there are two sides to every story.

“Students can sit on either side of the stage. And it’s not a traditional musical. It’s more like an opera combined with a rock concert. It’s fast-paced, entertaining and heartfelt.”

Tom Barton as Augustin Magaldi/Ensemble

“I very much enjoyed the connectivity the cast had as the show progressed. When we started, we had some new faces that hadn’t done a Gannon show before, but since then, they have acclimated to the process as well as their fellow cast members. On top of which, many of the cast members are involved all over campus and it’s always exciting to see people you know perform and not be themselves.

“Don’t stop working. That’s what Eva’s story is about. You may start in a low spot on the totem pole, but that should not stop you from reaching for the top. To sum it up in one sentence: never be afraid to be yourself or see yourself reaching for the stars.”

Lauren Sovisky as Ensemble

“My favorite part about the production process was being able to collaborate with my fellow stage managers. Since there are three of us it was fun to be able to split this big production and make it a true team effort.

“The message of ‘Evita’ can help motivate just about anyone who thinks that they don’t have it. Eva’s story is very inspirational, of coming from almost nothing to getting everything in the span of a lifetime.”

Jenna Sulecki as Peron’s Mistress/Ensemble

“As an actor who moves well rather than dances, the times I get to have an ensemble role are some of the best opportunities I get to learn to dance. It’s been super frustrating at times, but getting it right feels so good.

“The Gannon community needs to see this because they will probably never have the chance to see ‘Evita’ in a black box theatre on an alley stage. Maybe they don’t realize how insane that is, but to theater people it would be the best story to tell at parties ― it’s that unreal.

“Of the show ― no one can say for sure how a life was lived. ‘Evita’ challenges the way the Argentine people saw and adored Eva Peron in the ambiguous manner of showing glimpses of her documented political life ― a life the public looked over.

“My favorite lyric is, ‘So what happens now? Where am I going to?’ and in the context of the song, they’re questions to ask after heartbreak or the end of a romance. However, it’s a set of questions I ask myself often in all areas of life, especially as my time in college comes to a close. I think everyone asks themselves that.”

There are many more voices and thoughts about ‘Evita,’ but I hope this is sufficient to inspire you to come to the Schuster Theatre, and see the show yourself. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and April 28-30, as well as at 2 p.m. May 1.  Admission is $7 or free for Gannon students, faculty and staff with a current Gannon ID.  For reservations and more information, please call the Schuster Theatre Box Office at 871-7494. Experience the history and life of a woman who inspire many to speak their mind in spite of overwhelming odds.

ROMAN DENISYUK

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