Over the past couple of days, a local story out of Massachusetts is starting to gain get some online attention, at least in our world. It all has to do with the decision by the North Shore Music Theater to not cast any Latinx actors in its upcoming EVITA production.
That decision led to an online petition by New York City-based actors, who are calling the decision just the latest example of whitewashing and ignoring Latinx talent.
On Tuesday, WBUR spent 17 minutes about this issue with Lauren Villegas, whose Project Am I Right is one of the voices protesting the North Shore Music Theatre, and Bill Hanney, the theater’s owner. Throughout the interview, Hanney kept repeating that EVITA was never really a Latin American show and defended that the show’s original cast from the 1970s didn’t have Latinx actors.
Hanney ignored the fact that the EVITA remake from just a few years ago actually had an Argentine lead (Elena Rogers) and Ricky Martin as Che. Granted, Rogers and Martin are white Latinx actors, but one can argue that the cultural connection to the role was important, not just for them, but for say, Spanish actor Antonio Banderas, who perhaps did the best Che role ever in the film version of the musical. (FYI, he slayed it in this live version as well.)
Which goes back to the point of the petition. As it states, “It is your responsibility when choosing to produce a show to dedicate your resources to honoring the cultural heritage of the story you wish to tell. For a production of EVITA this means casting Latinx actors to play Latinx roles.”
To think that in 2017, Hanney still doesn’t get it—that’s part of the problem.
“Your conscious decision to whitewash your production of EVITA is a classic example of systemic erasure of Latinx artists,” the petition also said. “This is white supremacy at work. A group of white men in positions of power excluding people of color for a seat at their table.”
Memo to Hanney: these aren’t the 70s any more, and the days of Mandy Patinkin playing Che are long gone. The North Shore Music Theater is clearly missing the point when its own owner doesn’t think that a musical about one of Latin America’s most iconic political figures has no grounding in Latin American history or culture. As this nation becomes more diverse, the Latinx talent to play roles like Evita and Che and even Juan Perón is there. Because in the end, hearing the words “outside the Casa Rosada” spoken by someone who actually knows what it means will always resonate.
The North Shore Music Theatre should at least admit that it screwed up, that it learned from this, instead of giving us all the same white liberal excuses that fewer people of color are listening to these days.
We stand with the actors on this one.