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The challenge of playing 'Evita'

WANT TO GO?

"Evita"

Presented by the Charleston Light Opera Guild

WHERE: Civic Center Little Theater

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, May 10-11 and 17-18; 3 p.m. May 12.

TICKETS: $20

INFO: 304-343-2287 or www.charlestonlightoperaguild.org CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Emily Capece has plenty to keep her busy. The mother of two is an associate director with the Appalachian Children's Chorus, working with the Cora Voce Choir. She's also the artistic director for the chorale group womanSong.

"If there's music, I'm there," she said and laughed.

Capece, who has a master's degree in music and choral conducting from Westminster Choir College, lives for music and absolutely loves a musical challenge. Still, with the Charleston Light Opera Guild's production of "Evita," she acknowledged she has her hands full.

But she just couldn't pass it up.

"The Guild doing this is kind of a big deal," Capece said. "'Evita' is kind of inaccessible to a lot of community theater groups and particularly high school theater. It's vocally very challenging, very complex, and not everyone can pull it off."

In her opinion, it's the kind of show that only a group like the guild could really pull off in Charleston, and their willingness to try was irresistible to Capece.

The musical, which opens Friday at the Civic Center Little Theater, tells the story of the rise of Eva Peron, the second wife of Argentinian President Juan Peron. A polarizing figure in politics still, Eva was condemned for alleged fascist sympathies and corruption, but also celebrated and nearly sainted for her support of the poor.

The musical, written by musical theater heavyweights Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber, was a massive success in London's West End and on Broadway. It earned Broadway great Patti LuPone her first Tony Award in 1980.

A Broadway revival of "Evita" returned in 2012 and has been nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Choreography (Rob Ashford) and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (West Virginia's own Michael Cerveris).

Capece said "Evita" is a musical theater heavyweight, but it's one of those productions people often only really think they know what it's about. Capece includes herself in that.

"I grew up listening to Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals," she said. "I spent huge chunks of my summer singing along to 'Phantom of the Opera,' then 'Evita' and then 'Cats.' Other girls had the Spice Girls; I had musical theater."

Still, Capece said she didn't delve too deeply into the subject matter and who Eva Peron was, but with taking on the role, she educated herself more.

"Evita's" take on Peron is at least a little controversial.

"Andrew Lloyd Weber definitely painted her in a certain way," Capece said. "And really she was probably a lot of what he thought. She was kind of a saint, at least to the poor that she championed, but also vicious and an opportunist." 

She added that it was her challenge to try and put the humanity of Eva Peron into the larger-than-life character imagined by the music of Weber and Rice.

Capece is choosy about the roles she auditions for. Since she and her husband, Christian, moved to the area five years ago, she has performed in just four other Light Opera Guild productions.

"I try to squeeze in one a year," she said.

Given her life, it's really all she can fit in, and she said she's biased toward the Guild because of it. Capece said there's plenty of talent in the area, but the Charleston Light Opera Guild is very strong technically.

"You can have great actors and good singers, but what if you've got stinky lights or bad sound?"

Capece added that she's comfortable with the Charleston Light Opera Guild. The performers working with her on "Evita" are more than just veteran actors; they're like old friends.

"It's important to have a good time," she said. "Especially, if you're going to devote so much time -- for free."

A lot of time has gone into bringing "Evita" to the stage. There have been a lot of long hours with rehearsals sometimes dragging on past midnight.

Capece believed it was all worth it.

"We started this one about three months out, and we've done so much work. You sort of wish that we had a longer run than just three weekends."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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