Anneliese van der Pol has the world at her feet.
There's a panoramic view of downtown Santa Ana from the seventh floor of the Orange County High School of the Arts, where the 15-year-old sits comfortably in executive director Ralph Opacic's office. She spent the afternoon registering for her junior year of high school; and that night, she was to be onstage at the Buena Park Civic Theatre playing Eva Peron in the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber musical "Evita."
Underneath the teenager's purple flowered slip dress--bought with money she earned in the show--and glitter toenail polish is an accomplished performer whose talent transcends her age. Van der Pol brings the grace and strength of her dance training and a self-possession wrought from six years of stage experience to the role, capturing the steely, seductive charisma of an Argentine legend twice her age.
"It is a stretch, at my age, to be playing an older woman," says van der Pol, diving into the interview with the same enthusiasm and intensity she brought to her well-received performance in "Evita." "But I've found there are ways that I do relate to her.
"'Eva is a very strong woman, manipulative and demanding; she goes for what she wants. I like to feel I'm strong as well, with some of that same determination," she says, adding, "In Act 1, Eva starts out as a 15-year-old who wants to go to Buenos Aires and be an actress. That's definitely something I'd like to do--except for me, it would be theater, maybe in New York."
Van der Pol has been dancing since she was 6, singing and acting since she was 9. She saw her first production of "Evita" that year and was smitten: "I remember thinking, 'I could do that part, I could play her,' but I didn't think it would come so soon in my career," says the Long Beach teen, intrigued as much by the 18 glamorous costume changes as the demanding singing part.
"It's always been my dream role. I guess now I'll have to find another one," she says, laughing.
When she's not attending classes, van der Pol keeps busy performing; roles have included Clara in "The Nutcracker" with the Southern California Dance Theater; Sandy in a Huntington Beach Playhouse production of "Grease"; and Chava in Front Row Center Theater's "Fiddler on the Roof." She spends much of her free time after school and on Saturdays studying ballet, jazz and tap at a local studio, training with an acting coach in Los Angeles and going to auditions.
"I wouldn't say that I was a born performer, because I work very hard at it. But this is my life; it's who I am. That's one of the things that's great about being at [the High School of the Arts]: You're with kids who love what you love and have the same goals," says van der Pol, who clearly thrives on her busy lifestyle.
She says she didn't mind juggling summer school with "Evita's" two-month rehearsal and performance schedule (the show closed Saturday) and readily admits that she's not a typical teen, except in one respect: "I'd really like to get my driver's license!"
Van der Pol initially auditioned for the role of Peron's teenage mistress, but was cast as Eva after director Kevin Calvin heard her sing. "It was such a surprise," she says. "He really took a chance on me, and I've done my best. I guess somehow we both knew I could pull it off.
"In Act 1, the young Eva is supposed to be fresh and new and different, but she's also very sexual. I thought I would feel uncomfortable with that because I just had my first kiss last summer, as Sandy in 'Grease.' But once we began rehearsing, the emotions and the movements just came out."
In her dressing room after the evening's show, van der Pol begins her transition from worldly woman to California girl, slipping back into the purple dress and searching for her rings among Eva's glittering baubles. "Some nights go better than others; I guess tonight went pretty well," she says modestly, although she--and the cast--received a standing ovation.
"You learn something from every show. Eva was such a demanding role, I almost feel that I can do anything now."