Chatting with Che: An interview with "Evita" star Josh Young
Back in 1979, "Evita" was a Broadway revelation, winning seven Tony Awards – including Best Musical – and cementing songs like "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" into audience's heads for decades to come. Yet despite its immense popularity – and Broadway's current need for name brand musicals – it took Eva Peron's story of politics, power and celebrity over 30 years to come back to Broadway.
The 2012 revival was well received, snagging three Tony nominations. Now, the show is hitting the road with a stop at Milwaukee's Marcus Center for the Performing Arts on deck. Before the curtain lifts, OnMilwaukee got a chance to chat with Tony-nominated actor Josh Young about his acting career, bringing "Evita" back and playing Che (but probably not the Che you're thinking of).
OnMilwaukee.com: When did you decide that you wanted to get into acting?
Josh Young: I think as soon as people starting telling me that I could do it for a living, I saw no reason not to. It's what I enjoy doing the most. If anybody can do for a living what they enjoy doing the most, why not do it? There's a good number of people who are able to do that. I think a lot of athletes enjoy their sports more than anything else in the world, and I think a lot of actors enjoy acting more than anything else in the world. My father is a dentist. I don't know that he loves dentistry more than anything else in the world. But he provides for his family well.
OMC: What are some performances that you remember inspiring you and getting you into acting?
JY: The first musical that I saw was "Les Miserables," and that was a touring company in Philadelphia at the Forrest Theatre. I remember seeing that and saying that I wanted to do that. I didn't know that was something that I could do for a career, but I knew I wanted to try it because I loved to sing at that point, and I liked to act as well. So that year I ended up being in my school play.
I also remember seeing Mandy Patinkin in "The Princess Bride," and his performance – everything I've seen him do, actually – made me want to be an actor and a better actor.
OMC: Two years ago, you were nominated for a Tony playing Judas in "Jesus Christ Superstar." What was that experience like?
JY: It was crazy. I was actually very lucky because during the Tony season, I had bronchitis, and I didn't think anything would be a possibility. Luckily, enough people saw me, and the whole thing was crazy. I had interviews, and that's a big responsibility. All day, I would be doing interviews and meetings, and then at night, I had my show. So it was exhausting. That being said, I wouldn't trade it for anything.
OMC: Where were you when you found out about the Tony nomination?
JY: I didn't think I was going to get nominated. They announced them at like, 9 in the morning, and I was sleeping. I made the choice not to wake up because I didn't think I was going to get nominated. And then when I woke up, I saw that I had like 100 text messages. It was pretty cool.
OMC: "Evita" interestingly enough was also nominated that year. What drew you to "Evita" and this national production of it?
JY: I did "Evita" at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 2010, and the producers of the Broadway production saw me do it. Fast-forward to 2013, I think they thought, "Josh has a Tony nomination. We saw him do it in Stratford." They must have liked my performance in Stratford, so they offered me the job.
OMC: What's new about this production of "Evita"?
JY: Well, one major difference is that Che, my role, is not handled as Che Guevara. He's essentially one of the people because the word "che" translates in Spanish to just a guy or buddy. And Ernesto Guevara, who everybody knows as Che Guevara, was given that nickname because he used to call everybody "che." It's really an exclamation that means "Hey man" or "Hey buddy."
In the score and in the original script, nowhere does it say Che Guevara, and when the show was originally conceived, it was conceived as the narrator being an everyman. So we've kind of brought it back to that genesis. Now, he's an everyman, one of the working class people who's affected by all of Evita's political decisions.
OMC: How did you prepare for, instead of being Che, being just a narrator and an everyday person?
JY: I just made a backstory for this guy. I think the rest of the ensemble did the same thing. I made up a backstory for my character. I worked in a tannery, and I've got a family to support, and this and that. It was a whole three-dimensional person who I made my Che to be, but it certainly wasn't Ernesto Guevara.
OMC: Why do you think that they changed the narrator from Che, a regular guy, to Che Guevara, and back again?
JY: I think it was Michael Grandage, our director. I'm pretty sure it was his decision. It wasn't Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's call to make him Che Guevara. That was Hal Prince's idea for the original Broadway production. Because Eva Peron and Che Guevara's politics differed very much, I think he thought that it would be a cool idea to have that contrast. But that was never the intention of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.
I think when our director had the opportunity to restage it, I think maybe that idea of Guevara didn't really resonate with him. It doesn't really make much sense on the surface because Guevara and Peron never crossed paths ever in their lives. Though they were both born in Argentina, Guevara was known as a Cuban guerrilla, and most of his life was spent in Cuba.
OMC: This was the first time "Evita" had been revamped or revived on Broadway since its original production 30 years ago. Why do you think it took so long to be revived, and why do you think this is a good time for this show again?
JY: Well, the show's never really left. It's been in regional theaters, community theaters and high school theaters for the past 30 years, and it's always been done with the Hal Prince staging in mind. So it's never really been gone. This is the first time it's been revived Broadway, yeah.
Why did it take so long? I don't think 30 years is too long. Maybe it's a little bit too long, but nowadays I think shows are being revived too quickly. Like "Les Mis" has just been revived three times in the past ten years, and it's about to be revived again. I think that's too quick.
In between the 30 years, the Madonna movie happened, and that counts for something. And that's actually more similar to what we're doing in our production.
So I couldn't tell you why it's taken so long. There's always a lack of spaces. Like right now, it's hard for a show to open on Broadway. You need to have the right theater for the right show. You can't just open "Evita" in an 800-seat house. It has to be a bigger house, and there's a ton of logistical reasons.
OMC: Do you think there's something about the time that we're living in that makes reviving "Evita" a choice that might speak to a cultural zeitgeist on some level?
JY: I don't know if that was a conscious decision, but I think that is why the show has stayed around for the past 30 years, and it'll probably be around for the next 100 years. The themes of celebrity and corruption of the government will always be around, and it'll always speak to people.
Aside from that, the music is kind of universally glorious. I don't see people getting tired of it anytime in the future. To me, it doesn't seem dated at all.
"Evita" runs Feb. 4-9 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. For more information on the show and tickets, visit the website.
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