With actors, live music and a projection screen, “Evangeline: Queen of Make Believe” is more than just a play, it’s a multimedia theatrical production.
“I think sometimes ‘play’ just has a particular stigma attached to it,” co-creator Louie Pérez said. “This one (is different) because there is live music played on stage, there’s dance, there’s visuals, there’s video projection and a lot of other things going on, as opposed to just a usual conventional play.”
Pérez is best known as the principal lyricist from the Grammy Award-winning band Los Lobos, but he’ll be at the Merced College theater on Thursday at 7 p.m. with “Evangeline.”
Pérez said he’s worked on other theater pieces, but usually just on the musical end. He said his “day job” keeps him busy, so it wasn’t until “Evangeline” that he was able to be so involved.
“These things don’t happen overnight,” Pérez said. “We’ve got over three years invested into this.”
That pace is new territory to a songwriter who is used to writing two verses, a bridge and chorus for a 3-minute song.
Several of the songs in Pérez and bandmate David Hildago’s catalog are featured in “Evangeline,” marking the first time the songbook is part of an original production. One new song is part of the production.
“It’s kind of cool to me to see some of these characters that are in these songs come to life, and see them in three dimensions,” Pérez said.
“Evangeline” is the story of a young Chicana woman whose neighborhood roots and make-believe world collide when she experiences Los Angeles’ 1968 art scene and the music of the Sunset Strip.
The production is set against the student walkouts of East Los Angeles and the fight for equal education and civil rights for the Latin American community, and follows Evangeline as she tries to balance her role as the daughter of a traditional family and as a swinging ’60s Hollywood go-go dancer.
The girl in the play is not based on any real person, but the story came out of the life experiences of Pérez and co-creators Theresa Chavez and Rose Portillo. Pérez grew up in 1960s Los Angeles.
“Whether you’re a painter, or a novelist, or a playwright or a songwriter, I think somehow it becomes autobiographical,” Pérez said.
The play should serve as a reminder that Mexican-Americans have been growing up in the same America as their white counterparts, Pérez said. He said he remembers watching “Green Acres” and “The Beverly Hillbillies” as a child.
“There’s a lot of these myths and stereotypes that are still prevalent in this country at large,” he said. “They still think we wear funny hats.”
The production premiered last year in Southern California, where it played for about a month. Pérez said the Central Valley tour is a smaller version of “Evangeline,” but one people will relate to.
Central Valley towns are also less likely than perhaps Northern California to get touring theater.
“We felt these are the areas that need service, these are the people that need this kind of thing,” Pérez said. “We recognize the community there.”
November will mark the 40th anniversary of Los Lobos. To celebrate that, the band will play a kickoff show Nov. 14 at the Whisky a Go Go, the Hollywood bar where they got their big break.
Advance tickets for Thursday’s performance of “Evangeline” are $10 for students, $15 for seniors and $20 for general admission. To reserve tickets, call the Merced College Theatre box office at (209) 384-6284. Tickets also are available at Gottschalk Music Center, 355 W. Main St. in Merced and at the Merced College bookstore. Tickets will be sold at the door for $25. Merced College is located at 3600 M St.
In addition, the Merced College Foundation will hold a wine and cheese reception featuring live music by Pérez and Hidalgo at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Merced College art gallery. Tickets for the reception are $50 and include admission to Thursday’s performance. For tickets to the reception, contact Robin Shepard at (209) 381-6470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. or John Albano at (209) 386-6777 or email@example.com.