What I was most struck by was how much joy there is in About Productions’ EVANGELINE, THE QUEEN OF MAKE-BELIEVE, a multimedia musical play that opened over the weekend at Bootleg Theater. It’s a 100 per cent L.A. story, featuring the songs of David Hidalgo and Louie Pérez of Los Lobos as its most glorious asset. Few artists are as truly homegrown as Los Lobos, the Grammy Award-winning East L.A. band whose eclectic musical style and distinctive voice are much loved by Angelenos of all ages and cultures. This is the first time their music will appear in a theatrical production and that reason alone is sure to drive audiences to the theater.
Familiar favorites like “Good Morning, Aztlán,” “River of Fools,” and “Revolution,” played by The Neighborhood Band (led by musical director Scott Rodarte of the band, Ollin) and sung by the expressively world-wise CAVA (Claudia Gonzalez-Tenorio), form the framework for this story, a collaborative effort by Pérez, Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo.
Dutiful daughter Evangeline (Catherine Lidstone) is a young Chicana growing up in a close knit but hard to escape East L.A. neighborhood in the late 1960s. While her mother (Danielle Barbosa) struggles to find employment, Evangeline artfully multitasks to keep the traditional home running smoothly, tending to her deceased father’s shrine, playing surrogate mom to her younger brother Ramon (Jorge Diaz), and handling all of the household chores like a pro.
Problem is, she has dreams. Blame it on the records or the radio or the inherent restlessness of youth, but she would rather trade the cage of social limitations and familial expectations at home for a go-go dancer’s cage on Sunset Strip. This may be her story but in many ways it is our story too. For we’ve all stood at a similar crossroad and made a decision that would affect the rest of our lives.
Lidstone makes a lovely, leggy Evangeline, her big brown eyes shining with innocent optimism and we are quite happy to hitch a ride on her journey, though there's never really a question as to whether she will achieve her goal. Barbosa effectively represents the archetype of the mother, fiercely loyal to her heritage but in steadfast denial of her family's financial situation, and next door neighbor Rita (Karen Anzoategui) walks away with the scene every time she climbs in Eva’s bedroom window.
With impeccable comic timing and a no-nonsense barrage of questions and observations, she is the one in whom we see the resonance of life. It is she who is in charge of Beto’s car while he is in Vietnam and who religiously rubs the fuzzy dice that hang from the rear view mirror to keep him safe. She’s the best friend who screams and jumps up and down with abandon when Evangeline confides that she has been to the ‘west side’ and makes it her mission to drive Eva to her go-go audition at Club Universe on the Strip. And it is also she who recognizes that she will never leave the barrio but will instead remain part of the fabric of the neighborhood while her friend moves on to find a new world of adventure.
Francois-Pierre Couture’s set design is a multi-functional candy-colored delight, self-contained, and ready to tour. A wall of vintage LPs mounted on an open wirework grill separates the band from the playing area and individually themed revolving modular units move to create all of the locations. To represent rooms in Evangeline’s house you’ll see overstuffed baskets of clothing exploding from the laundry unit. Pots and pans are abstractly swept across a panel to denote the kitchen, and a shelf-lined altar with 7-day candles and religious statues marks the shrine to her deceased father.
Suspended above are two video screen cut-outs for cinematographer Claudio Rocha’s terrific projections and everything is filled to the brim with color and life. Plus, the vintage costume designs by Marcy Froehlich easily bring back images of Laugh-In, The Mod Squad, and Sonny & Cher.
Though the story gets a little bogged down in its desire to teach midway through and its resolution left me wondering if I missed a step, EVANGELINE, THE QUEEN OF MAKE-BELIEVE brings a fresh voice to a universal story of self-discovery. The joy in the making is evident from the moment you step into the theater and it will most certainly find a ready audience in a city that delights in the coming-of-age stories of its people.