In the spring of 2014, Minnetonka High School’s production of “Evita,” the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical, had so much momentum around it that nobody wanted to let it go.
The elaborate show played to sold-out audiences and received numerous awards from the Hennepin Theatre Trust’s Spotlight Musical Theatre Program, including “best overall production,” according to Trent Boyum, the high school theater’s artistic director.
Boyum, who serves on the program’s steering committee, likened the SpotLight awards to the Tony Awards of high school musical theater.
So Boyum contemplated ways to bring back the show. At first, he considered a tour of some sort. After scoping out the possibilities, the idea arose to bring it to a professional union theater in downtown Minneapolis, where large Broadway productions come through.
The Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts worked well for the sheer scale of the production, which involves more than 130 student actors, musicians and stage crews.
Now the school is gearing up for the reprisal of “Evita” at the center from July 24 to 26.
It’s a first for Minnetonka High School, and for any high school theater, as far as he knows, he said.
It’s a way to mark SpotLight’s 10-year anniversary while also celebrating high school musical theater, he said.
Over the past decade, the SpotLight program has grown from 35 participating schools to 70. Minnetonka High School has taken part since its inception.
“We’re doing our shows as close to Broadway as we can get,” Boyum said.
Coming to the Cowles Center is “such a great opportunity to go where the big tours come through, to go where our heroes play,” just as a winning sports team might visit a large athletic arena, he said.
For the students, it’s a unique learning opportunity. The cast and crew are adhering to union rules, even working alongside union stagehands, taking 15-minute breaks every so often and an hourlong dinner. “We’re running it exactly like a national tour would run, to give the kids the feeling of what it would be like,” Boyum said.
At the high school, the theater built a replica of the Cowles stage, with a “pretend proscenium,” so it will translate to the space. The school will soon load a truck with all of the lighting and sound equipment and set elements to transport to the Cowles Center.
It’s a chance to “take it to the next level and share it with a new audience,” Boyum said.
At the first rehearsal this summer, “I told the students that we were beginning where we left off closing night,” in the spring of 2014, he said. “I said, ‘We have to start there and get better from there.’ ”
They’re taking his words to heart, and they’ve been working hard, Boyum said. “They’re happy to have this opportunity. They know what an honor it is.” Some students have already spent a year in college, so their voices have matured and they’re making more sophisticated acting choices, he said. “They’re great leaders for the underclassmen.”
He hopes it draws in theatergoers who may not be familiar with the school’s work. The school raised funds for the effort and lined up some major sponsors, but it “can always use the support of the theatergoing public,” he said.
Splitting the role
Boyum split the main role in “Evita” into three parts, conveying Eva Perón in various stages of her life.
That made better use of the school’s talent. At the same time, the role is daunting for one person. “I thought that as long as we show the audience that we’re handing the baton to the next Eva, they wouldn’t get confused.”
Claire DesLauriers, Lauren Strauss and Kalli Anderson play her from youngest to oldest, respectively.
When Eva is on her deathbed, the three actors present a montage of her life. It creates the effect that she “sees her life pass before her eyes,” Boyum said.
In preparation for the show, which originated as a rock opera concept album in 1976, a dramaturge talked to students about Eva Perón, her rise to power and what conditions were like in Argentina during her lifetime, especially for women.
“Eva Perón is famous as a kind of Susan B. Anthony in Argentina,” as she helped secure the right for women to vote, Boyum said.
At the same time, she’s not always painted in a positive light. “We say she’s flawed and may not be approaching some things in the best way, but her heart and intentions are good,” he said.
DesLauriers, who will be a senior in the fall, plays a 15-year-old Eva. It’s a complex role, because the real Eva Peron was “perceived as a lot of things, like coldhearted, willing to stomp on anyone to get to the top. Yet at the same time, she’s selfless for her people,” she said.
Since she doesn’t have to juggle classes, she’s had more time to research Eva Perón and take in other portrayals of “Evita,” including the 1996 movie starring Madonna.
DesLauriers was struck by how Eva was kicked out of her father’s funeral. “It was devastating for her, and it stayed with her. I think that’s why she wanted to get to the top,” she said. “It’s amazing to step into the shoes of someone who was so influential.”
At 17, she can relate to the teenage Eva. “She doesn’t have that much power at the beginning of her life, but she dreams big. She’s determined to go for it,” DesLauriers said.
That range in emotion is something she’s trying to convey more this time around.
Anderson, who plays the oldest Eva Perón, is also tweaking her performance. When she watched the video of the school’s previous staging, at times she thought, ‘What am I doing with my hand?’ Or, ‘Why do I look angry in that moment?’ she said via e-mail.
Sometimes it’s hard to “get into such a somber mental state, but it’s fun and exciting, too,” to be able to take on another persona, she said.
Anderson, who will be a freshman at Biola University in California in the fall, is excited for a do-over, and for the chance to up the ante. “I hope people are inspired and moved by our performance,” she said.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.