Amarillo Opera to tackle popular musical 'Evita' beginning Friday
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
After the success of Les Miserables in 2014, Amarillo Opera will stage another epic 20th-century musical — Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita, opening Friday.
"We were looking for another big show like (Les Mis)," general director David O'Dell said. "Phantom (of the Opera) isn't available. And I think this is the most operatic Andrew Lloyd Webber piece, basically. It's operatic in scope, it's mostly sung through and ... no opera company had done it when we chose it."
Evita will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Buchanan St. Tickets are $15 to $90, plus fees. Call 806-372-7464 or 806-378-3096.
Returning from Les Mis are Craig Schulman, who directed and starred as Jean Valjean, and Matthew Patrick Morris, who played Marius. This time, Morris will play the narrator, Che (loosely inspired by revolutionary Che Guevara), and Schulman, who's also directing, will play Argentine President Juan Perón. In the lead — as the ambitious, doomed Eva Perón — is established Broadway star Jackie Burns, who replaced Idina Menzel in both Wicked and If/Then.
"David originally asked me to do Che and direct, but I said I'd think about that and I called my wife," Schulman said. "I'll paraphrase her: 'You're a little too long in the tooth and a little too wide in the girth to play Che.'
"I don't pass for a 20 year old as much as I wish," Schulman said.
He played Che once before for a 1992 performance in Yorktown in upper New York, where he now calls home, but Schulman is best known for Valjean in more than 2,000 performances, as well as starring in the title roles of Phantom and Jekyll & Hyde.
"I'm not finished singing yet, but that day is not far over the horizon, and I want to stay in my craft," he said.
That's why he signed on to direct Les Mis for the opera company in 2014 and returned for Evita.
"I enjoy directing," Schulman said. "There's the creativity of storytelling in a different way, rather than just one single character."
Burns met Schulman earlier this year at a concert in Valdosta, Ga. After the first rehearsal, he said he asked her to audition, especially after learning that Eva Perón was a character on her bucket list to perform.
"I am a huge fan of Patti LuPone (who originated the role on Broadway in 1979)," Burns said. "This is one of the most iconic roles to play in musical theatre."
None of the three lead actors have Latin heritage, which wasn't seen as a priority when the musical first opened in London in 1978 or on Broadway, but more recent productions have come under fire for "whitewashing" the story of such significant Latinx figures. (The 2012 Broadway revival and 2006 and 2012 West End revivals all featured Latinas in the title roles.)
Schulman said he is aware of such controversies, but he said he chose the best actors from the pool that auditioned in New York.
"I had some operatic women come in, and they did OK, but none could touch Jackie," Schulman said. "You know what? We're actors. This is what we do. I understand the concerns of ethnic actors, and I see their point, but in our case, no (Latinx) actors emerged in the auditions."
"It's a little bit troubling and a little bit puzzling" that none emerged, O'Dell said. "But it's one step at a time in trying to get there."
"I would never want to take a role away from anyone," Burns said. "I'm very sensitive to that."
In the musical, Burns portrays Perón from the time she's a restless teen, when she meets a tango singer, Agustín Magaldi, and begs him to take her out of her small town and to Buenos Aires, where Che tells us she slept her way up the ladder until she met an equally ambitious military man, Juan Perón and marries him before he rises to the presidency. Eva becomes his vice president, but her time in power is short — she dies of ovarian cancer in her early 30s.
Webber and Rice largely based their work on biographies of Eva that were more critical of her life and ambitions, and Burns doesn't necessarily sympathize with their take.
"Her story is not at all what you think," Burns said. "I try not to comment on the characters, but I think there's a lot more ... than originally was made out to be."