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Asolo Rep’s Evita

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Rising Star Ana IsaBelle Portrays the Powerful & Charismatic First Lady of Argentina

BY RYAN G. VAN CLEAVE | PHOTO BY JOHN REVISKY evita

Asolo Repertory Theatre kicks off its upcoming season with the classic Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical, Evita. Director and choreographer Josh Rhodes says that when Asolo Rep’s Producing Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards asked him to be the director, he immediately thought “Yes!” but managed to say, “Let me think about it for a few weeks.” Rhodes relished the challenge of creating a new version of a classic musical, but he wanted to be 100% sure he had a point of view on Evita and the life of Eva Perón worth telling. For him, discovering a story’s mythological underpinnings helps him connect with the characters, and once he realized that Evita was a retelling of sorts of the Icarus myth? He was all in.

“Here’s this Christ-like figure who dies so early in her climb,” Rhodes explains. “She was so ambitious and so iconic. Plus there are so many different accounts of her life—some turn her into a saint, while others make her out to be a monster. Everyone sort of holds their own piece of her story. So in a sense, she’s very much a mythic figure.”

The goal for Edwards and Rhodes then was to create something new—not some revival or copycat version. One way to do that was to cast a Latin American acting company. “That was a big ask as we went into auditions,” admits Rhodes. But that was the plan. And it worked. After weeks of hearing wonderful, wonderful people—plenty who could handle the job, Rhodes notes—they had their Evita. When Puerto Rican pop sensation Ana Isabelle walked in, the room was electric. And then she wowed them with the same voice that earned 30 million votes in Univision’s Viva el Sueño, a reality singing competition that she won in 2009.

“It was glorious,” Rhodes says. “She pulled us in with her charisma. She has incredible, incredible presence.” He knew immediately that he’d have her in for a callback, so he gave her a few notes on the spot. To his surprise, she asked, “Thank you, thank you, but could I try it again right now?” Rhodes loved that Evita-like ambition and passion, which seemed perfect for the role. Regarding that moment, Isabelle explains, “I know from my journey as an artist and a person that you only have THAT moment. You never know what will happen next. I believed in my gut that I could do what he wanted. I had nothing to lose.”

Isabelle recognizes that she’s in for a quite a marathon with eight shows a week from November 14 through December 30. Thanks to her time on Viva el Sueño, she knows she has the discipline and stamina to succeed. “Some of my fellow contestants wanted to hang out on Friday night, but I had to pass,” she says. “I had to be ready for Sunday’s performance. I couldn’t risk my voice.” She laughs and adds that one of her biggest challenges with playing Evita is breathing! “The role is so intense vocally – two hours, almost nonstop. It’s hard to find moments to breathe. It’s a real workout.” It’s no wonder that she refers to herself as an athlete. That’s the level of commitment it takes to succeed at this level.

Since she got the role, Isabelle has immersed herself in the world of Eva Perón. She’s watched documentaries, read books, seen the Madonna movie, viewed the original Broadway production and the revival. She even spent time in Argentina to get the vibe of the people “and to see her grave.” She firmly believes that Eva Perón has an amazing story and it’s important to get it right. “I think she was a kind person. Even though others have different opinions, I invite everyone to see her as a woman who dared to dream. She was someone who came from nowhere—the slums of Argentina—and left behind a powerful legacy.”

Rhodes says that it’s always a blessing and a curse when a piece has a political element because since the beginning of time, there have been polarizing opinions regarding politicians. Evita’s story is no different—there were people who despised her and those who loved her. “There’s always room for watching stories like these and finding similarities in how we view women in politics right now,” he says. “The Peróns got rid of people who didn’t agree with them, and that’s the path to a dictatorship. We should always be on the lookout for warning signs like that in our politicians.” He notes that having the musical set in 1940s Argentina helps make the political aspect more palatable. It’s a way to learn, remember, and think.

“This is a show with huge emotion, an epic story, and lots of amazing music,” he adds. “While Isabelle’s rendition of ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ is going to take your breath away, she’s going to tear the crowd apart at the end of the show when she dies. She’s so, so vulnerable—this woman you’ve seen dance and sing and scream and own the stage for two and a half hours. You’ll feel like you spent the night with an incredible character and a first-rate performer.”

Like Evita, Ana Isabelle dreams big. When asked what she would love to do as a follow-up to taking on the lead role in Asolo Rep’s Evita, she immediately responded with the idea of playing Evita on Broadway. “A hit album wouldn’t be bad either!” she says. But she added that she’d be quite interested in playing the lead in a major film or a TV drama or sitcom. She’s been on TV beyond her season on Viva el Sueño, serving as a vocal coach on La Voz Kids, a judge on Idol Kids Puerto Rico, and playing the character Anita in the Telemundo series Decisiones. She loves sitcoms, though, because she loves to make people laugh. But to be clear—if Game of Thrones needs a Latina with an accent, she says she can be available!

For more information on Asolo Repertory Theatre’s 2017-2018 season, please visit
www.asolorep.org or call 941.351.8000.

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