‘Evita’ Plays Tampa’s Straz Center & Orlando’s Bob Carr Centre | March 18 – 30
Based on the iconic life of Eva Duarte, Evita tells the compelling tale of ambition, manipulation, love, lust and politics. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber ‘s 1978 Tony Award®-winning musical has since influenced fashion, the airways and movie-making. The movie’s soundtrack sold over 11 million copies, won a Grammy, Oscar and Golden Globe as did Madonna. The the film won an Oscar for Best Motion Picture.
With more than 20 major awards to its credit, including the film version starring Madonna, director Michael Grandage and choreographer Rob Ashford have revamped Evita, the musical history tale of the First Lady of Argentina. The musical still features the songs “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” and “High Flying, Adored.”
Almost 40 years later, the new iteration of the rock opera comes to Florida, playing at The David A. Straz Center for Performing Arts in Tampa through March 23 before opening at The Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre in Orlando, March 25 – 30.
Tug Watson joins the First National Tour as part of the swing cast. The accomplished actor and dancer’s previous credits include the National Tours of Young Frankenstein, Annie and “Munkustrap” in Cats. Off stage, the New York resident dabbles in comedy sketch writing and is a member of Stonewall Quartershare, a fundraising group of LGBT young professionals.
Amidst a grueling tour schedule, I caught up with the openly gay actor to discuss this revival of Evita and why Eva Peron was one of the original gay icons.
Erik Caban: Which incarnation of Evita did you first see and what parts of the film/or production most impacted you?
Tug Watson: The movie was the first time I ever saw it. I think it was 1996. I saw it with my grandfather in the theater, when I was living in Southern California. I knew about Evita from “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” but the movie, I thought, was so beautiful. From the scale of it to how many extras they used to the architecture to the sets, it was just so huge! Obviously, it’s very difficult to capture that on a sound stage or even a fresh score for singing on stage but I was very moved by just how large it was. When I saw the 2012 revival, they achieved some huge and beautiful grand moments in this production.
What made you want to be a part of this production?
I love the show. I’ve done Evita three times before. When I saw this revival on Broadway in January just before the auditions for the national tour, I thought, “Well, I could be in this.” I love doing it. I love dancing. There are two big numbers. It’s my personal favorite or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals. I was just really excited to go in for the audition and be considered for it, let alone getting the job.
What’s your favorite part of this production?
The people. I think the people they hired are really amazing. They’re so professional and friendly. We treat it like a job and not like summer camp. A lot of times, shows that go on for a long time, it can turn into a never ending party – which I’ve certainly been a part of and never even partied before. This one is a little calmer; a little more serious but in a familial way.
Are there any major differences from the movie version?
The movie version is, of course, based on the live stage version. I think the original orchestrations are still here but in the movie, they made them a little more film-friendly. There’s much more dance in this. It’s a true theatre piece. I think what this 2012 production borrowed from the movie, is the relationship with Che and the audience. He’s not necessarily Che Guevara, like the original. He’s more so every man or a narrator or a sub conscious of Eva, which I really do like. It makes so much sense.
Since the younger generation, if you will, is more familiar with the film version, do you find that your audiences are generally gay, by default?
Well…Yea, very much so actually. Not by default but you do see a lot of gay audience members; not necessarily young or old. The movie is brought up or is compared to Patti Lupone. Not just the role but Eve Peron herself can easily be considered a gay icon. [She was] someone who rose to the top, was uber charismatic and just an exceptional individual. People were very seduced and attracted by her. They idolized her. Thank God we have this musical that requires a fabulous singer that can sing this role. People would’ve idolized Eva Peron even if it weren’t for Patti Lupone or Madonna – at least I would have.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?
This show has a really fantastic creative team. I’ve worked with someone on the team before, so I really wanted to work with her again. It was exciting to see her when the auditions came about. I’m a swing, so I cover everyone in the ensemble; whenever anyone’s sick or injured. I understudy nine different men, so the chance of me going on is pretty high. I love to swing. It’s a very challenging job & it’s a job that not everyone enjoys doing. Every show needs swings, so I’ll always continue to work. With this on my resume, if people want to hire me to swing, that’s fantastic & very satisfying.
What exactly is a “swing?”
The principal ensemble understudies the leads. So, when that person goes on for the lead, someone needs to step into their track. That’s one reason I’d go onstage. Another reason is if someone gets sick or injured or is taking a personal day or vacation. There are nine different men in the ensemble and there are four swings; two men and two female. We’re backstage, we’re waiting. Sometimes we go on or have to wait a few days. From the beginning, we’re really learning the whole show, instead of just one part. You end up watching the show 30 times and just by the power of osmosis, you kind of learn everything.
Going back a bit, how did you get your start in theater?
I have three sisters. We were living overseas in England. My parents took two of my sisters to see Cats on the West End & didn’t take me. They didn’t think I would like live theater as a five year old. Cats made my sisters dancers. One still dances professionally. We moved back to the states & it became very clear that I wasn’t excelling in any sort of sports. I remember saying, “Take me to dance class.” When I was about 12 or so, my parents first enrolled me in a good old-fashioned acting class and ballet classes. It just kind of took off from there. I really gave myself no other choice but to pursue this.
Dancing is definitely a sport.
Without out a doubt. The athleticism involved certainly compares to being a professional soccer player.
I see you do theater and sketch comedy, how well do those mesh?
I write as a hobby while on the road more so when I’m in New York. I love to write little sketches with my friends in New York. We want to, one day, make our own web series. You have to keep yourself creative on the road. You can’t just sit in your hotel room, and then go do a show.
Do you have a passion for one over the other?
Theater for sure. Absolutely. I think if I were to pursue comedy, it wouldn’t be to be a comedian but to be behind the scenes as a writer. Like I said earlier, I gave myself no choice. Theater is how I expected to make a career.
So, what’s next?
I don’t ever plan on working at restaurants again, so I need to continue to perform. I look forward to being back in New York at some point, whether that’s to audition more or get cast in another show. That’s the beauty of being a gypsy; no matter how well you’re doing, you’re still living paycheck to paycheck. You never really do know what’s next – success or hard times – but I’m going to enjoy Evita for a little bit longer. After that, who knows? Hittin’ the road.