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Red Wing students take on 'Evita'

Eva (Anne Richardson) meets Juan Peron (Samuel Brady) after he speaks at a charity concert held to aid victims of an earthquake in San Juan. The scene is from "Evita," the Red Wing High School spring musical which runs Thursday through Sunday at the Sheldon Theatre.

What kind of woman was Eva Peron?

In the musical movie version of "Evita" she's a rock star - Madonna played the title role - and the story is largely a realistic portrayal of many of the events of her life.

Red Wing High School students present their take on the woman who won the hearts of Argentinians. Because it hasn't been performed locally in the past, the program notes will include some background to help set the scene.

"The stage show is very stylized and theatrical," said director Sean Dowse, executive director of the Sheldon Theatre, where "Evita" opens Thursday night.

It's not without realism, though. Key images - including historical scenes from Eva Peron's funeral - are flashed on a large screen at the back of the stage.

The play opens with the 1952 death of Argentinian President Juan Peron's second wife, then backtracks to tell her life story, from her childhood through her acting career, her rise to power and her political involvement.

The story is told almost exclusively through the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice.

"It's closer to opera than it is to musical comedy," Dowse said. "It's very multi-layered."

Eva Peron was a real woman, and the story told by Webber and Rice is an interpretation of her history with elements of the truth, in his view.

Anne Richardson, who is cast in the title role, presents "a stylized, operatic kind of version" of the character, Dowse said. "She has vulnerability, earnestness and the chops (voice), plus she has the flexibility to play all sorts of different levels, from a 15-year-old to a dying 40-year-old."

Eva Peron was much loved by the people of Argentina, but the audience sees all that went into making her the woman she became.

"You might look at Eva as cultivating relationships with men in order to rise to power, all her life," Dowse said. But, he asked, "What other option did she have" as a lower-class woman of that era, except to see men as the means to an end?

She hated the upper classes and probably had visions of doing good for the common people, Dowse said. "But she didn't get the power," even after marrying the man who became president - Juan Peron, played by Samuel Brady. "And she died too soon."

She was not really good for the country, he added: "It was still a dictatorship."

Throughout the production, the character Che - played by Aaron Bartz - is observing it all and pointing out the flaws in the arrangement, Dowse said.

Che is an Argentinian revolutionary, patterned after Che Guevara. Lyricist Rice uses him as a narrator and a counterpoint to the romance story between Eva and Juan, between Eva and Argentina.

"Anne is not a look-alike for Eva," Dowse pointed out. Instead, she "goes after the essence of the character. ... What I like about her performance is that it's a nonstop thing, very demanding." It takes strength and fitness to pull it off, he pointed out.

"'Evita' is a serious show, but there is humor in it," he said. "And it has one of the best death scenes ever."

The set is minimalistic; lighting, designed by student Evie Trulen, is critical to many scenes, and the focus is generally on the people and the music. Another student, Amy Decker, is stage manager.

Support staff include Dan Marrs, orchestra; Mikkel Gardner, vocal director; Amy Field, choreography; Karen Boek and Ellen Hutchinson, costumes; and Heather Finholm, set.

Performances will be at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $19 adults, $12 students. For more information, call (651) 388-8700 or (800) 899-5759 or go on the Internet at