'Evita' comes to JDHS

Posted: Thursday, February 18, 2010

Staging Juneau Douglas High School's production of "Evita" has not been easy, said theater director Michaela Moore, but the struggles she and the students have gone through in getting the play ready for public view have been cathartic, and in some ways mirror issues evident in the play itself.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"It's been a really hard journey, but it's been a really neat journey because this play has made us grow as people, not just as artists," she said.

Moore said for her, the play is about Evita's struggle to balance her own desires and those of her community; for her students, the experience of putting on the show has often touched similar themes of personal and group priorities.

"The biggest struggle for them has been 'is this show about me or is it about the show?'" she said.

The story of "Evita" spurs us to think about giving back to our community and remember what matters most, Moore said.

"(The message is) that no matter who we are, no matter what the circumstances, there's always something we can do to benefit our community and our world," she said. "Life is short and we should open our eyes and start looking for what we can do."

The play is based on the real-life story of Eva Peron, a former actress who became first lady of Argentina in the late '40s and early '50s. She had enormous influence in politics and popular culture, both during her life and after her death, fighting for women's suffrage and labor causes, among other issues. Andrew Lloyd Webber turned her story into a musical in 1976, and the play was made into a movie starring Madonna and Antonio Banderias in the late '90s.

Moore said her husband, Richard Moore, an orchestra and choir teacher at JDHS, was the one who suggested staging the musical "Evita." After looking into the story and discussing it with her theatrical partner, Lucas Holland, she agreed it would be a good choice.

"I looked up the story and I really admired her as a woman leader," Moore said. "She really wanted to make life better for her people and she went to great lengths to do that."

After reading the play, Moore found that it didn't have as many lead roles as she wanted, so she made the decision to break one of the main characters, Che, down into six separate roles. This worked out especially well, she said, because Che's character fulfills the role of the chorus in the play, the narrative voice that acts as an observer and commentator.

"We all hear voices in our heads and we hear more than one - they're conflicting - and the six of them do a better job of giving that feel, when we're really not sure what's right and what we should do," she said.

About 85 people are involved in the production, which includes an orchestra brought together specifically for this purpose, led by Richard Moore. The orchestra is made up of students, parents and teachers, including the orchestra teacher from Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, John Unzicker.

The cast has been meeting almost daily since last fall, putting in long hours outside of school. In addition to its music, which includes the well-known "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," the musical involves lots of dancing.

Moore said that getting the students involved in a theatrical production or other art form helps keep them engaged in their school work as well.

"If we didn't have the art, we'd lose a lot more of them," she said. "These kids get so passionate ... and they bring that passion into class."

In at least one case, the passion on stage has transferred over to real life in another way: Lead actors Shanae'a Moore (Moore's daughter) and Nick Banaszak, who play Evita and Juan Peron, fell in love during the course of the production.

"They have quite a chemistry," Moore said. "We could all see it coming."

Other lead roles include Gabi Larson as Che 1, Dawson Walker as Che 2, Emily Smith as Che 3, Zoey Wilson as Che 4, Aaron Cohen as Che 5, Katie Poor as Che 6, Andre Bunton as Magaldi and Monica Yost as Mistress.

Though "Evita" has been among the more difficult productions she's staged, overall Moore said the rewards have far outweighed the challenges.

"I love it," she said. "I can't live without this. I love working with these kids this way."

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