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True story of 'Evita' comes soon to Milwaukee, combining politics and the arts

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This Tuesday, Feb. 4, Tony Award-winning musical "Evita" comes to Milwaukee's Marcus Center through Sunday, Feb. 9. It's been a decade since Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice's musical toured the United States and in anticipation of the tour reaching Milwaukee, cast member Ryan Bailer took the time to go in depth about this production.

"Evita" is the true story of Eva Perón, a woman who takes herself from the slums of Argentina to the presidential mansion. She rises to power as the wife of President Juan Perón, and soon finds her country split between those who adore and despise her. While some argue that she merely slept her way to the top and would bring ruin to Argentina, others believe her a saint who truly represents and helps the common man.

The three primary roles in "Evita" are Eva Perón, Juan Perón, and Ché. Ché, while traditionally meant as a representation of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, acts as a kind of narrator and representation of the common man in this production. It is fitting, then, that the ensemble play such a presence in "Evita", as they often play the Argentinean people gathered to support or rebel against the Peróns. Ryan Bailer acts as part of the ensemble and the understudy for Juan Perón and can testify to the importance of the role of the Argentinean people in saying,

It really is an ensemble show meaning the chorus are onstage almost the entire show, dancing or backing up the leads or interacting, so you really come away with that idea that everyone is integral to the story being told.

Ryan Bailer studied musical theater performance at University of Michigan and performed professionally in Milwaukee, Chicago, and finally New York in 2001. His Milwaukee production, "Forever Plaid", ran for 6 months and was the longest running show in Milwaukee history. This is the first production he's auditioned for since taking a break in 2002 and he is very excited to return to Milwaukee as a part of such an acclaimed production.

When I played Milwaukee during 'Forever Plaid', that was one of my favorite times ever. We loved Milwaukee and all of us fell in love with the city and loved the people there.... Just being able to be a part of this show, I still wake up thinking I can't believe I'm in this show performing with such great, talented people!

Among the many talented cast members in this production are Tony nominee (for his role in "Jesus Christ Superstar") Josh Young as Ché, Broadway actresses Caroline Bowman and Desi Oakley as Eva Perón, and Broadway actor Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Perón. Eva Perón's character has a lot going on around her, particularly with her husband Juan and the Argentinean people, embodied in Ché. While the musical shows how she made her rise from impoverished commoner to the revered "Santa Evita", the strains on her ties her relationship to Juan and the common man are strong themes. As Bailer puts it,

The whole show [Ché] is narrating [Eva's] life saying, 'She's a fraud, she's not what you think she is, she's really just an actress who slept her way to the top, she's corrupt, and she'll steal all your money.' She is countering him basically the entire show saying, 'No, I am for the people, I'm for the workers. I'm here to make their lives better. I'm one of you, I came from you.' And the show does a really good job of letting the audience decide which of those is true.

This controversy over Eva Perón's character is one that is still present today, were you to ask the people of Argentina what they thought of her. And another great thing about "Evita" is how historically accurate it is, not to say that Eva and Juan Perón sang and danced their lives away, but in the conversations and styles.

Almost every scene is based on a historical event. So instead of someone taking history and saying we're going to wrap a fun story around it, they took history and put it to music, and so much of the lyrics are based on things that actually happened.

If, however, you are not one for politics and historical figures, this is still a production to grab your attention and keep you entertained. "Evita" is an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical with lots of dancing and timeless songs such as "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and "Another Suitcase in Another Hall." The previously mentioned lead cast members are sure to impress as Bailer is quick to praise their individual talents describing Young as "really exceptional", both leading ladies as "just mesmerizing" adding, "you can't take your eyes off them", and MacLaughlin as having a beautiful voice and "a very commanding presence." He added,

If you don't even care about the history or don't care that it's true or not, I think we all relate to life through stories and this is a show that tells a story of a person's life, so that draws you in like a great documentary might draw you in.

Even if you already know the story or have seen the 1996 film, this is a production with a reputation for bringing something fresh for audiences.

One of the comments we get consistently from people that know theater and know the show and know the story say that we really have taken the story and put a new spin on it in a way that you think you can't refresh 'Evita.' Everyone's done it but they all say this is such a new take on it and it's really refreshing to see it done this way.

"Evita" runs Tuesday, Feb. 4 through Sunday, Feb. 9 at the Marcus Center. Tickets are available by calling 414-273-7206 or online. For more information, please visit http://www.marcuscenter.org/show/evita/.

It's an age old story of what power can do to a person.

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