Bound for Broadway
The current chapter of talent-to-watch-for Eva Tavares' show-business story is currently unfolding in Toronto, where she's right in the thick of work on the Broadway-bound musical Sousatzka, opening officially March 23 at the Elgin Theatre, following a few weeks of previews.
Based on Bernice Rubens' novel Madame Sousatzka – filmed in 1988 with Shirley MacLaine – the David Shire/Richard Maltby Jr./Craig Lucas musical tells the story of a young South African musical prodigy in early 1980s London who is caught in a battle of wills between his mother and his piano teacher.
As a 'swing' for the production, the Peninsula-raised Tavares, 25, is a key utility player assigned to understudy multiple chorus and supporting roles. It's a testament to the versatility of a singer/dancer/actor who has already proven her ability to carry a lead role in a critically-acclaimed 2016 Edmonton production of West Side Story.
"I'm learning eight different roles – the youngest is 10 years old," she told Peace Arch News, on the line from Toronto. "I basically step in wherever I'm needed.
"I'm the fix-it person. I have to jump in. You have to be able to do everything and do everything now. It's a specific kind of stress, but it's good – it's teaching me a lot."
Tavares acknowledges she proved her mettle – not to mention chutzpah – after her agent scored a meeting for her last year with producer Garth Drabinsky while she was in Toronto for two unrelated auditions.
When he first met with the young player in his office, Drabinsky apologized that he wasn't looking at people for the show right then and wasn't able to book a pianist or studio for a formal audition, she said.
"I took my shoes off and said 'I can dance for you right here'," Tavares recalled.
"I showed some choreography, sang a song and did a monologue – after which he told me to keep my summer open for workshopping the musical."
Her subsequent experience as a member of the workshop troupe that helped iron the kinks out of the new musical has been invaluable in her current assignment, she said – but none of it would have happened if she hadn't demonstrated her ability to seize the moment.
"It's something I strive for – you have to be adaptable," she said. "It's something we all strive for – you have to be willing to go with the flow."
If it sounds like Tavares has unusual assurance for one so young, it should be said that the Peace Arch Hospital-born triple-threat has been performing for most of her life.
"I started with Spiral Dance in White Rock at the age of two-and-a-half, and trained there until I was 18," she said. "When I was 13, I discovered I liked to sing as well, so I started singing and dancing."
After she graduated from Southridge Junior School, she studied at Langley Fine Arts School with a focus on musical theatre.
"I was commuting from Ocean Park, I was doing all the choirs and dancing and singing from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then I'd rush back to dance at Spiral."
It was the singing part of her talent, however, that led her to the UBC Music Department, where she gained her bachelor's degree in operatic performance.
Since then she's been busy gaining credits and paying dues, including productions of Albert Herring in Vancouver and Out of A Dream at Richmond's Gateway Theatre.
A big breakthrough for her was winning the plum role of Maria in the Citadel Theatre, Edmonton production of West Side Story last spring, which elicited a rave from Edmonton Journal reviewer Liz Nicholls.
"She has charm to go with innocence," Nicholls wrote, "plus an unerringly pure soprano voice which negotiates absurd heights without apparent effort."
"It was a huge leap for me," Tavares said of playing star-crossed lover Maria, while noting she's "never been afraid of something new."
But even though she's not spotlighted in the same way in Sousatzka, she doesn't hesitate in saying it's "the biggest opportunity" she's had so far.
"I've never been involved in something Broadway-bound before," she said. "There are 10 or 12 award-winning cast members – it blows my mind every day. Victoria Clark (starring as stern Polish piano teacher Sousatzka) is somebody I watched accept her Tony award in 2007. She's very generous with her time, and her work and life experience. I'm really open to learning from people like that – it's an opportunity to learn and soak it in.
"It's all happened very quickly – I'm really just riding the wave right now."
The first-generation Canadian attributes some of her tenacity to Scots mother Una St. Clair and Portuguese father Ernest Moniz – who several years ago went through a lifestyle shift to become off-grid farmers in the Sorrento area of B.C.
When she's not involved with a show, that's usually where Tavares can be found – helping out with the farm with younger brother Ian, and also writing a blog she started called 'Off-Grid Chick".
"You can get bogged down with the challenges of farming, so I started a blog to bring some lightness to the struggle," she said.
Tavares said she's aware that farm life is the antithesis of her musical-theatre career, but it's a great way to let go of some of the show business pressure.
"It's a good balance for me to be able to go there when I'm not working in the city – I'm very thankful for it," she said.
But even though her parents – and recently her grandparents – moved away from the White Rock area, Tavares said she still frequently comes back to visit the town where she was born.
"I loved growing up in White Rock and I still have so many friends there," she said.