'Evita' exceeds high expectations

Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2010

It would be an understatement to say "Evita" is my favorite musical. I saw it for the first time in London in the summer of 1978. I lucked into tickets for the show about a month after its world premier at the Prince Edward Theatre with Elaine Paige starring as Eva Peron, the wife of Argentinean president Juan Peron. I saw the show two more times on Broadway in New York City in early 1982. And I have seen touring productions in Seattle and San Francisco.

So I was filled with anticipation when I heard the Juneau-Douglas High School Theatre Department was going to perform it. Could the actors possibly equal or top their past magnificent productions of "Les Misérables" and "Jekyll & Hyde?" Did the decision to divide the Che Guevara character in "Evita" into six different parts by director Michaela Moore make any sense?

The answer to these questions is a resounding yes! There are so many good individual performances in "Evita," it is impossible to list them all. Here are just some of them.

Monica Yost plays Juan Peron's mistress. When she sings, her voice is so clear and pure it reminds me of Patricia Hull, the leading lady in JDHS productions of "My Fair Lady" and "South Pacific" in 1979 and 1980. Hull has always been my measure of singing greatness at JDHS. Come close or equal her, and you are remarkable.

The six Che characters are Gabi Larson, Dawson Walker, Emily Smith, Zoey Wilson, Katie Poor and Aaron Cohen. Each plays a vital role in the play. Cohen plays Che No. 5. I took my first photo of him when he was 12 in 2004 when he hit a monster grand slam home run in a little league game. Like that game all those years ago, Cohen hits it out of the park with his performance in "Evita." He dances with Shanae'a Moore, the star of "Evita" in the "What's New Buenos Aires" scene. It is like no other dance scene I can recall in previous JDHS musicals - and I have seen almost every musical since the early 1970s. I can best describe the dance as high-octane tango. The dance is fun to watch and only a good dancer and powerful athlete like Cohen can pull it off. It looks daring, but after endless practice he pulls it off flawlessly.

Shanae'a Moore plays the title role of Eva Peron. "Evita" is one of the most iconic modern musicals with one of the most famous scenes in the history of theater - the balcony scene where Eva Peron sings "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." Starring as Evita is quite a challenge for any 17-year-old high school junior.

Moore delivers one of the best JDHS leading lady performances I have ever seen. From the moment she enters stage left as Andre Bunton sings "On This Night of a Thousand Stars" to the last heart breaking scene, she is Evita. Not only does she sing amazingly well, she tangos, spins, dips, flips, kicks and even flies!

Moore and Nick Banaszak, who plays Evita's husband, have a special chemistry on stage. I can't really describe it, so take my word and go and see for yourself. There is a sparkle in their eyes for each other that is a beautiful thing to see.

It is not possible to compare a high school play to a London West End or New York City Broadway production. I have photographed many of the "Evita" cast members when they were little kids. I have even taken photos of some of their parents when they were students at JDHS years ago. And that makes it all so special to me.

From now on when I hear of Evita I will think of Shanae'a Moore before I think of Madonna, Patti LuPone or Elaine Paige. When I think of Che I will remember Gabi Larson, Dawson Walker, Emily Smith, Zoey Wilson, Katie Poor and Aaron Cohen.

Evita plays at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Juneau-Douglas High School Auditorium.

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