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'Evangeline' musical returns for stagings Wednesday and April 17

March 26, 2013|By Randy Lewis
  • Theresa Chavez, Los Lobos' Louie Perez and Rose Portillo, co-creators of the musical "Evangeline, the Queen of Make Believe," which will be staged again on March 27 and April 17.
Theresa Chavez, Los Lobos' Louie Perez and Rose Portillo, co-creators… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

Evangeline is back, a bit older but she’s still growing and changing. We’re referring both to the character and the play of the same name based on the Los Lobos song “Evangeline,” which is from the band's 1984 album “How Will the Wolf Survive?”

Last year “Evangeline — The Queen of Make Believe” had a three-week run at the Bootleg Theatre in Los Angeles, the outcome of many previous months of workshops and small-scale presentations of the work created by Los Lobos’ lyricist and band member Louie Perez with Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo of the About Productions theater troupe.

Another step in the play’s development unfolds in two performances of "Evangeline REMIXED" on Wednesday (March 27) at the Autry National Center in Griffith Park, and April 17 at the First Congregational Church in Pasadena. Discussions will follow the performances.

It’s still essentially the story of a young Chicana living in East L.A. in the late-1960s, a coming-of-age tale in which a teenage girl begins to discover her own identity through her passion for rock 'n' roll, politics and a social circle geographically near but culturally far removed from what  she’s known before. Her story is set against the student walkouts in East L.A. and the Latino community’s struggle for equal rights.

“After the premiere, we knew it would turn into something else,” Perez told Pop & Hiss recently. “We always wanted to take this thing on the road, so we knew it would have to be stripped down, somewhat abbreviated and changed in certain ways to be able to do that.”

One of the key changes involves Perez’s onstage presence in the two upcoming performances as a narrator who helps move the story along more efficiently than dramatizing each scene. The impending presentations will revolve around a revised first act, because, Perez said, “the second act still isn’t written yet.”

Another new element is the transformation of Evangeline’s boyfriend, James, from student activist into a would-be rock musician.

“Even before the run ended last year, we were talking about different ways it might go,” Perez said. “We thought, why don’t we make this a real rock 'n' roll story and make James a real rock dude, an up-and-coming guy for whom things are moving way too fast. We’re not inventing sliced bread here. It’s a cool story, and it works every time.

“Things are happening too quickly for Evangeline too — her mom back home doesn’t know what she’s doing at night when she crosses the L.A. River and goes to Hollywood and has a life as go-go dancer. She has to decide whether to dream big or to stay in the barrio.”

For Perez, who turned 60 in January, it’s a new facet of his creative life.

“I don’t have any problem reading something in front of an audience. That part is kind of like the Dave and Louie shows we do,” he said, referring to music and spoken-word performances he does periodically with his longtime songwriter partner, Los Lobos guitarist-singer-accordionist David Hidalgo, who also will be performing presentations during the play which incorporate several Hidalgo-Perez songs.

“But in something like this you have to know your monologues," he said. "Suddenly I’m taking acting lessons and being directed. Here I am 60 years old and I’m learning something new. I never had the desire to jump out of an airplane, but here I am doing this. It’s that kind of an adventure.”

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Follow Randy Lewis on Twitter: @RandyLewis2 

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