‘Evita’ opens on Kentridge stage

It is a daunting production, one few high school casts would attempt. But Jennifer Grajewski wanted to take that important step – to recreate a powerful, historical and culturally rich story.

Kentridge’s Caelan Creaser

It is a daunting production, one few high school casts would attempt.

But Jennifer Grajewski wanted to take that important step – to recreate a powerful, historical and culturally rich story.

“There aren’t a whole lot of musicals out there that focus on Latino culture,” said Grajewski, the drama and artistic director at Kentridge High School. “Our demographics and population are changing. I like to try to find pieces that reflect that and educate my kids in some way culturally.”

The piece she found was “Evita”, an inspiring true story of the First Lady of Argentina and her struggles to become the most powerful political and spiritual leader of her country.

Grajewski’s cast – 46 Kentridge students and 21 children ages 5-10 from Kent and Renton elementary schools – took on the challenge.

The play – a musical that’s operatic in nature, with little or no dialogue – premieres at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Kentridge Performing Arts Center and continues for eight more performances, closing May 4.

The story follows Eva Peron and her people as they travel to Argentina and journey through devotion, despair and South American culture. The Tony Award-winning show gives insights into the story of Peron, an Argentine political figure who was the inspirational leader of the nation and second wife of Argentine President Juan Peron.

The story follows Evita’s early life, rise to power, charity work and eventual death.

The Kentridge production recreates Evita’s engaging story accompanied by two screens that bring videos and still images of her life as the cast plays out the musical on stage.

The musical begins with Evita’s funeral and travels backward to the start of her life. The musical required considerable research and work by the cast and staff.

“My hope is the audience will really understand that what (we) are doing is recreating these events … people singing and listening to a powerful lady,” Grajewski said. “The images are riveting.”

The large cast of children was brought in to represent Evita’s popular following. Her passion was to help the young.

“So many people were impacted by her in such a short amount of time. The good that she did for the poor in Argentina,” Grajewski explained. “It really is a message that one person can make such a difference in the lives of so many others.”

Caelan Creaser plays the lead role of Eva Peron. Creaser, a senior who will study musical theater at Ithaca (N.Y.) College in the fall, was awarded best actress in a leading role by 5th Avenue Theatre for her portrayal of Elle Woods in Kentridge’s production of “Legally Blonde” in 2012.

Portraying Eva Peron took on a new challenge for Creaser.

“The hardest thing for me was I wanted to make her the most historically accurate that I could,” she said.

The musical also includes a rich array of song and dance, including a complex choreographed eight-minute tango number.

“It’s one of the most difficult things I have done,” said seasoned musical theater dancer Haley Poole, a senior bound for New York University to study communications and media. “It’s real intricate.”

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“Evita”

• Musical: Eva Perón used her smarts and charisma to rise meteorically from the slums of Argentina to the presidential mansion as First Lady. Adored by her people as a champion for the poor, she became one of the most powerful women in the world — while her greed, outsized ambition and fragile health made her one of the most tragic.

• Showtimes: 7 p.m. April 24-27 and May 1-4, with a 2 o’clock matinee scheduled for May 4

• Venue: Kentridge Performing Arts Center, 12430 SE 208th St., Kent.

• Tickets: $8 general admission, $10 for reserved seating. Ticket information can be found at www.kent.k12.wa.us/kr

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