In theater, you never get a second chance to watch a shooting star, or so I thought. While movies and books can be shared an infinite number of times amongst fans, great performances on stage come and go, never to be experienced again. I’ll never see, for example, Christopher Plummer and James Earl Jones in what was regarded as the definitive “Othello” in 1984. Everyone who was there regards it as a high point in theater history. The same goes for seeing Robin Williams and Steve Martin in the legendary “Waiting For Godot” production from 1988 or Robert De Niro’s rare 1988 Broadway turn in “Cuba and His Teddy Bear.” While film forever captures performance art, theater has always been an inclusive, you-had-to-be-there experience where, if you missed the show, you’ll never see it, ever.
All of this bears mentioning because of Amy Hanaiali’i’s return to the role of Eva Peron, in the Maui Academy of Performing Arts production of “Evita.” I saw Haniali’i play the role at the Historic Iao Theater 23 years ago, under the direction of Mike Snyder. That production, which opened on May 12th, 1992, was one of the most astonishing productions I’d ever witnessed on a Maui stage. The Iao Theater somehow seemed bigger, as the production was encapsulating and showcased some startling performances. Eric Gilliom played Che as a forceful, strutting voice of the people, Richard Yankovic was a powerful Juan Peron, Tim Nolan nailed the slithery nature of Magaldi and Molly Bauckham was heartbreaking as Peron’s Mistress. Being an impressionable young man and just beginning to participate in theater, Hanaiali’i’s work burned into my memory and inspired me years later. My father took me to that performance and I recall him revealing afterwards that he saw Patti Lupone play Peron on Broadway…and that he preferred Hanaiali’i’s performance.
Twenty-three years later, director David C. Johnston is at the helm of this massive production, a rare revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece (my apologies to fans of “Starlight Express”). Following “Miss Saigon” and “Les Miserables,” Johnston’s previous summer musicals, in which beloved, complex (and gigantic) musicals are staged on Maui as Broadway-sized extravaganzas, anticipation is huge for “Evita” and deservedly so. With Frances Tau’a playing Peron, Kepa Cabanilla-Aricayos as Che, Joey Schumacher as Magaldi and Danielle Delaunay as Peron’s Mistress, the ensemble cast and crew is awash in talent and experience. All eyes, however, will be on Hanaiali’i, returning to the role she originally performed at the Maui Youth Theater, decades before it became MAPA (and well ahead of her becoming Hawaii’s all-time, top-selling female vocalist). I spoke with her before a rehearsal. Here are some snippets from our conversation.
Barry Wurst: What was your first encounter with “Evita”?
Amy Hanaiali’i: Patti Lupone was my introduction to ‘Evita’. I listened to her play the role, over and over.
BW: How has the experience been for you, returning to the role?
AH: The first time I played her, it was vocally demanding. I hadn’t honed my craft. With more life experience under my belt, my opinion of her definitely changed over time. Now that I’m older, dealt with politics, seeing the politics going on and supporting politicians, that puts a dicier spin on it for me.”
BW: When you think back to that initial production in ’92, what comes to mind?
AH: I couldn’t turn on my blow dryer without killing the power at the Iao Theater. There was one time where it rained on me during a performance!
BW: Did you have any reservations about returning to the role?
AH: I kinda did. I hadn’t done theater in a long time. The first time, I graduated in 1990, went to the San Diego Theater School, came home and played in “Evita.”
BW: How do you feel about Eva?
AH: Her political side is so strong, I think I can really identify with it. I grew up in Kihei and, as a Hawaiian entertainer, I have an empathy for indigenous people.
BW: Just out of curiosity, have you ever been to Argentina?
AH: I have never been to Argentina, but I have a fan on Facebook who is so enamored with her. I hope I can do her justice.
BW: How has it been working with David Johnston and your co-stars?
AH: I love David C. Johnston’s humanity, his letting the artist find the character. Kepa’s great, we have a lot of fun. Francis is a Baldwin classmate. The first show I ever did, “The Hobbit,” was with him!
BW: This show is famous for its multitude of costume changes…
AH: Peter Lee designed these costumes, there at least 14-16 costume changes in this show!
BW: What was your impression of the 1996 movie with Madonna?
AH: Seeing it was a little rough for me.
BW: Would you return to theater and is there a “dream role” you have yet to play?
AH: I’m looking for meaty roles. I’ve played a few, like Eva Peron in “Evita,” and The Witch in “Into The Woods.” I did a work by Jacques Brel once. I’d do that again.
BW: Considering the numerous young actresses who will see your performance and no doubt be inspired by it, do you have any advice for young actresses?
AH: Be ready to make sacrifices, be honest and work as hard as you can. Coming from the Maui Youth Theater and Baldwin High School, and attending the San Diego Theater School, you have to take huge risks and make sacrifices. But, if you become a celebrity, you have to be ready to live a normal life.
MAPA LIVE! Presents EVITA plays August 21-30th at the Castle Theater in the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. Tickets can be purchased at mauiarts.org or by calling 242-SHOW.