Despite her lament, Alexis Van Maanen is far from another suitcase in another hall. The 18 year old actress is making her mark as Juan Peron’s Mistress in the 40th Anniversary production of Evita.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1976 concept-album-turned-musical Evita has earned a place amongst the greats, winning both an Olivier and a Tony Award for Best Musical. Past productions have boasted star studded casts including names like Elaine Paige, Colm Wilkinson, Barbara Dickson, Patti LuPone, Phillip Quast and even pop sensation Ricky Martin. A film adaptation in 1996 featuring the dazzling Madonna in the titular role brought further attention to the musical, spawning countless revivals worldwide.
2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the stage production, and it seems fitting for yet another global superstar to slide into the role of Eva Peron. Melbourne-born Tina Arena will be donning the blonde wig and high heels as Argentina’s most loved First Lady, with Jemma Rix (Wicked, Ghost) as the alternate Eva.
Alexis, a fresh high school graduate, is making both her professional and principal debut in Evita, and I had the pleasure of talking with her about her experiences ahead of the show’s Melbourne season.
When did you begin performing?
From a young age I always just loved singing. I was always singing, much to my parents’ delight as a two year old. [laughs] I did Australian Girls Choir for a long time, and that really nurtured that performing arts side of it. I had a really good performing arts program at my school which helped, I did school shows, and I just knew that it was something that made me happy, and it was so fun! To think about doing it as a career… it’s not working if you’re loving every minute of it! It’s a hard place to get into, and to be here I’m feeling very lucky.
Tell us about your experience working on Evita?
It was quite daunting coming into the first day of rehearsals, for sure. I’ve watched people in this cast so many times in different shows, and of course, with names like Tina Arena and Jemma Rix… just to walk into a room with them in the mix was definitely daunting. But as soon as I started chatting to everyone, they were just nurturing. A lot of the older people in the cast who had started out in the same spot as me really took me under their wing. It’s a really great environment to do a first show in, with such a diverse range of people, ages and experiences in both the cast and the creative team.
What’s been the most exciting part of this process?
First of all, being at the [Sydney] Opera House. Starting out our season there was something I never thought I’d be doing. But I think the most exciting part is being part of the ensemble and finding little moments with other cast members that make your show just that much more exciting.
Why do you think audiences love Evita?
The role of Eva Peron is such a pioneering female figure. And for her time, there really weren’t many female authoritative figures in the world of politics, and she really was a trailblazer in that realm. Ultimately there was a dictatorship created but she was still able to be so loved by the masses and be such an icon. For Tina Arena to be stepping into that role quite beautifully parallels Tina’s career going from a local Victorian girl to a mega star. It’s quite a beautiful thing, those two combined.
Your solo, ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’, is one of the most recognisable songs from the show. How have you found singing such an iconic number?
It’s pretty exciting to be singing a tune that a lot of people are so familiar with. It obviously brings with it its own challenges, people might have expectations of how you’re going to sing it, or just that it’s such an iconic song that you want to do it well. It’s been really nice to have such great support from our musical director Guy Simpson who’s really worked with me on it. I’m feeling very lucky to be singing that song. It’s a very beautiful moment in the show, not just for the Mistress, but for the other characters – it’s really telling of how Che Guevara can be soft and kind in the show.
What can audiences expect from this production of Evita?
This is pretty much the same as the original production. It’s the 40th anniversary of Evita, so it’s paying quite detailed homage to the original. All the direction and sets were quite clearly in the style of that, it’s all very minimalist in terms of sets and backgrounds. The only thing I think is different is the use of multimedia, there’s lots of images projected and footage of the actual events occurring during that time in Argentina which is quite a lovely parallel with the really stark stage.
How have you found working alongside stars like Tina Arena and Jemma Rix?
I think coming into it I was just so excited. Having seen Wicked many times I was so excited to see Jemma do it, and obviously knowing Tina’s music and listened to her… I sort of separated myself from them thinking that they were the ‘stars.’ But they’re just so down to earth and want to be with the cast, and have really taught me a lot about what it means to be a good performer. It’s not just about the onstage stuff. They’re both such incredible women, such strong female figures and that’s why it’s so perfect for them to be stepping into this role.
Would you have any advice for people hoping to do what you have?
What I’ve learned in this industry is that it’s so much about timing – what shows are coming, what the creative team want, what you are at the time as a performer. Just continue to work every skill, don’t ever think there’s a finished product as a performer. I’m just starting from the ground now, and gaining as much knowledge as I can. It’s not just about the stage part of things, It’s about the backstage, working with people, and being kind to everyone who works within the show. There’s a lot of work that goes on backstage and knowing this is really important to work effectively.
Finally, do you have a favourite song in the show?
Definitely ‘High Flying, Adored’ that Che sings and Eva finishes. Lyrically it’s stunning, but quite sad at the same time. It’s simple and beautiful.
More information on the production is available at the Evita Australia website.