How Evita Had A Tryout In NYC And Gave College Kids The Chance of a Lifetime.

Evita, this year’s City Center’s Gala musical opened last night to a fantastic response, including a ton of love for Solea Pfeiffer (who one can only hope doesn’t get sucked up by Hollywood too fast) and twenty-something director Sammi Cannold, who did what great Directors do – add a simple concept to make us look at the show in a whole new way.  (I’m proud to say I recognized her as future-force when I blogged about her “Violet on a bus” back in 2013!)

As I watched the show, I was reminded of how amazing it is that City Center shows turn out such stellar productions, when they rehearse for about a minute and a half.

And the expectation for these productions are a lot higher now than when City Center started!  (Originating the 2nd longest running Broadway show of all time (Chicago) will do that to you).

But this production of Evita had even more challenges than the others.  It was an entirely new production, with a new Cannold-concept (featuring two Evas) that made a limited rehearsal period even more challenging (two Evas for starters).

What’s a company like City Center to do?

Inspired by Cannold’s own hands-on experience in college (like the aforementioned, site-specific Violet), the folks at City Center came up with a program that gave some college theater kids an experience that out-of-college theater kids would have killed for, and get a “try-out” in the process.

Enter Pace University’s Musical Theater Department, which supplied the creative team with a full musical theater department, including actors, for a workshop of the show.

Here’s what the school got:

  • Every one of its 100 musical theater majors got to audition for the actual Evita creative team.
  • A FULL process of staging, choreography and music with that creative team culminating in 2 showings for City Center’s community of artists and the Pace Musical Theater Department.
  • 5 Interactive Master Classes on everything from dramaturgy to marketing to accessibility.
  • Tickets to the invited dress of Evita.

And City Center got a workshop of Evita that it never could have afforded (a limited run with limited seats for a non profit has a budgetary box built around it).  And that workshop 1000% resulted in a better production.

This is what we call a win-effin’-win.

I’ve blogged about college programs getting involved in the musical development game before, because I don’t think there is any training process better than working on a new musical (or revival) with a Broadway team.  And the students get the bonus of monster networking connections as a result!

But this City Center-Pace “Institution in Residence” partnership is one of the best examples I’ve ever heard, and major props to the people who put it together, including Evita line producer, Darren Biggart, and the Director and Founder of the PACE Musical Theater program, Amy Rogers Schwartzreich.  (And I’d expect Pace’s applications for their program to JUMP after word gets out about the Evita experience.  Who wouldn’t want to go for this kind of opportunity?  Come on, my alma mater – time for you to join the class?)

“Research and Development” is hard and expensive in any business, from biotech to Broadway.  Finding a creative solution like this is one way we can guarantee better products, and give opportunities to the next generation that they wouldn’t get any other way.

College programs?  If you want to get in on this . . . email me. I’ve got a few shows for you.

And go see Evita!

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.