Children as old as 10 and 11 vied for a spot to sing on stage — and perhaps act — during auditions for the world-class production Evita held in Dubai on November 1. The show comes to Dubai Opera in January 2018. As nervous parents waited in the aisles ready to offer support, encouragement and reverse psychology, the little artists went to work on the song they had been preparing for a few weeks.
The musical, with scores composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, follows the life of Argentine political leader Eva Peron, the second wife of president Juan Peron.
On Thursday, they chorused through Santa Evita, before being shepherded offstage and called up in groups of five. This number was further whittled down; with those chosen made to perform solo in front of their peers — the participants came from stage schools, amateur dramatic and performing arts groups — parents and of course, judges. Jasper Hope, Chief Executive at Dubai Opera, Liz Koops, CEO Broadway Entertainment Group, and Stef Burgon, The Ticket, Dubai Eye, were on the panel.
This was the first time the opera house held auditions for local residents for an in-house show, and 12 adult and 16 spots for children are up for grabs. November 1 winners will only be given the you’ve-made-the-cut-call in a couple of weeks. Participants such as Michelle Schoen, however, had a tough act to follow.
There’s a tall bar to reach when you audition for Dubai’s opera house; it has featured top-rate West End musicals including Les Miserables, West Side Story and Cats, besides becoming a magnet for classic events such as the BBC Poms.
But Schoen was up to the task. “Since I could talk I loved to sing,” she said.
However, with huge stars on the horizon, why would one take on an amateur? Hope explained: “Dubai Opera has from day one been about quality, variety and community and whilst I would hope no one could question our delivery of quality and variety in our first year, it has not always been easy to find community engagement opportunities. When we have been able to create these opportunities they have been for talented musicians to learn from some of the artists we have brought, but for the first time we can now look at a much greater involvement for Evita.”
While it took a few hours to sift through the 50-odd competitors, the judges made their first cut quite quickly. So what are they looking for? “We’re looking for those who stand out on stage without overacting, whose voices are strong enough to be able to augment the professional company and whose self-confidence means they can handle quite literally being under the spotlight on stage night after night at Dubai Opera,” said Hope.
There was foot stomping and huffs, tears and forgotten words, red cheeks and clammy hands all around — not least the parents — while the auditions were on. By the end of the exhaustive process, the energy in the room ranged from anticipation to bafflement to disappointment.
Hope ended the evening on a positive note, calling for them to be proud of their performances. He added, in an email interview with Gulf News tabloid!, the next day: “Just to reiterate what I said to them yesterday, that to audition on the stage of Dubai Opera is a fantastic achievement in itself, something they had to do under enormous pressure, and that it was fantastic for my fellow judges and I to find ourselves with so many great performers from which to make a final selection and that I was enormously grateful to them all for being part of our first-ever audition.”
Kristyn D’Souza, who was one of the last to audition, said: “I always like to have a try in everything. When I was little I liked to sing a lot, and I got better and better at it. Once I [had] heard it [the song, Santa Evita], I listened to it a few more times, and I took my lyrics and I sat and learnt it.”
Melanie Stevens, Kristyn’s mother, says: “The school did send a pack and there was a little bit of guidance given from the music teachers, the rest she managed on her own. She just groomed herself.”
Ready for Evita
Indeed, the children were in the zone. At the end of the stressful evening, as the arena cleared out, there was an impromptu relief session, chaired by one of the girls — on a piano that sits in the Opera lobby, begging people to play. And joined by her friends, she burst into a charming rendition of Frozen’s Let It Go. Parents and guardians stood by, their mouths agape, as these young talents sang and jived. As 10-year-old Alexandre Hide, the pianist, said: “I think it [Evita] would be a great opportunity. It’s a fun day out and all of life’s opportunities are just to have fun, so I’m here, so why don’t I just give it my best?”