By Richard Schultz, March 2016 Issue.
Phoenix Theatre stages a revival of Evita, the rags-to-riches rise of the First Lady of Argentina who won the love of her countrymen after marrying military leader-turned-president, from Feb. 24 to March 20.
According to the production’s lead characters, Alyssa Chiarello, who stars as Eva Duarte Perón, and Carlos Encinias, who portrays the show’s narrator Ché, this enduring tale remains timely in the midst of today’s highly charged political climate.
Set in Buenos Aires between 1934-1952, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Tony Award-winning musical follows Eva on her journey from fatherless child, then ambitious actress, to the most powerful woman in Latin America and, eventually, to a saintly figure after her untimely death. The events in her life are presented in song and editorialized by Ché.
Together, Chiarello and Encinias bring life to this story with modern-day relevance.
“[Today] we have many leaders with a lot of wealth behind them, who cloak themselves behind charisma and empty promises,” Encinias said. “This show reminds us to vet out leaders and really involve ourselves in our community and the policies that shape our society.”
According to Chiarello, it was Eva’s unwavering spirit as she forged a legacy for women’s rights that impressed her the most about the character she’s portraying.
“When Eva was a young girl she was already well aware of the class system and that she was ranked among the poor,” she said. “She was a woman with no rights. She used that to fuel her passion to create a better life for herself, and eventually for her people. Through her rising political power and campaign for women’s suffrage, she got women the right to vote and also created an outlet for women to be able to join the workforce.”
The actress summarized this production as a history lesson set to music.
“Eva’s impact was prominent and, at the time, known internationally,” she said. “Eva was such a multifaceted woman. The greatest challenge will be telling her story from every angle as she was feeling it.”
Additionally, Chiarello explained that she sees the love story between a revolutionary female leader and her people as one of the themes of the show.
“Criticism aside … she was a young woman who rose to the challenge of taking part in the game of politics, which, at the time, was only a man’s game,” she said, adding a quote from Eva. “‘Love is giving oneself, and to give oneself is to give one’s own life.’”
The actress believes that Eva truly gave herself to her country until her last breath.
“[Her country] returned that love when thousands lined the street to the President’s palace to pay their final respects in a procession that lasted two days,” she said.
Similarly, Encinias sees Ché’s significance in his ability to provide a voice to the people of his time, many of whom were standing up for injustice and hypocrisy. The actor learned that Ché witnessed extreme poverty, disease and hunger and became passionate about fighting for the poor and less fortunate.
“Although I’ve never been in the same exact situation, I have had to fight for my voice to be heard in some aspects of my life, and had to fight for some rights and opportunities,” he said. “No matter what the specifics, every one of us has to develop our own voice to stand up for what we feel is right, and fight to be heard. That is what I love about Ché, he’s not afraid to speak his mind. He is a fighter and fights for what he feels is right.”
When asked how they prepared for their demanding roles, each actor acknowledged that they spent time researching their character as well as the time period.
Encinias said he watched a few movies and read up on Ché, and also on the political climate of Argentina during the Perón regime.
“It is such a fascinating story, and Eva’s rise to power is riveting,” he said. “Her charisma and charm carried her far.”
He also saw Ricky Martin play Ché in the latest revival of Evita on Broadway.
“I thought it was wonderful how his international appeal and popularity helped to [bring] so much press to such a wonderful show.”
After watching various clips and recordings of the well-known portrayals of Eva, Chiarello concluded that they are all different.
“I am aspiring to bring Eva’s humanity and the actuality of this woman [to audiences],” Chiarello said. “Eva was incredibly passionate and determined, but she was also very young and had a vulnerability that, I believe, founded her strength.”
When Chiarello first began studying musical theater, she saw Patti Lupone’s 1980 Tony performance of “A New Argentina” and was in awe.
“Lupone was very honest about the difficult task of taking on this role,” she said, “and that inspires me to respect the challenge of the role, and never feel settled because there is always something new to discover about the character.”
Alyssa Chiarello, from Mesa, is an AriZoni award winner for her roles as Martha in The Secret Garden and Anita in West Side Story. Her recent film credits include Bad Pizza, Maneaters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.
Carlos Encinias, originally from Albuquerque, made his Broadway debut in Mamma Mia and also appeared in Les Miserables, Scandalous and Good Vibrations. In addition to working as a director and choreographer, he is the artistic director of Take It From The Top, a theater education non-profit.
Editor’s Note: Following the publication of Echo‘s interview with Carlos Encinias, the actor experienced a physical injury during the rehearsal process. As a result, director Robert Kolby Harper announced that Michael Sample will be stepping in to play the role of Ché. Lucas Coatney will shift into the role of Magaldi (previously being played by Michael Sample). Miguel Jackson will join the cast as an off-stage vocalist.
Feb. 24-March 20
100 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix
Tickets: $36-$96; 602-254-2151