Evita’s Max von Essen discusses the ‘High Flying’ production, future plans and why he’s in theatre

Max von Essen

Max von Essen

 

The touch of star quality in Evita isn’t leading lady Elena Roger or international superstar Ricky Martin, it’s Broadway veteran Max von Essen who has held the show together performing regularly as Magaldi and every Monday evening as Che.

Max is known as one of the most loved guys in the business within the Broadway community. But he brushes off the title of “Mr. Congeniality” by saying “there’s no reason not to be nice.” Max said he surrounds himself with people who bring out the best in him and he wants casting directors to be able to ask his former co-stars about him as a professional and as a person. “I want them to be able to say, ‘I absolutely love him, he’s talented, he’s fantastic to work with.’”

After spending a year with Evita at the Marquis Theatre, the show opened on April 5, Max said the company was informed during a pre-show meeting that Jan. 26, originally listed as Elena Roger and Ricky Martin’s final date, would be the last night for the show. “Obviously, you never want to see a show close but I’m an optimist and am already looking forward to new opportunities.” With plans to take time off and rest before getting “back to the grind” of finding his next show, Max said what he will miss and remember most about Evita are the people he worked with. “Just to walk in every day and spend time with those people.  It’s the best part, hands down.”

With a long roster of credits to his name, including various national tours and off-Broadway productions, Evita is Max’s fourth Broadway show following Les Miserables, Dance of the Vampires and Jesus Christ Superstar. Max admits that there was a big learning curve with joining the Evita company because he was unfamiliar with the story.

Max von Essen as Magaldi and Elena Roger as Eva Peron in Evita.

Max von Essen as Magaldi and Elena Roger as Eva Peron in Evita.

“I knew nothing about Magaldi. Evita was not a show that was on my radar growing up. It was a completely new learning experience, I started fresh and taught myself the songs without preconceived notions,” Max said.  Although he saw photos and heard clips about Magaldi’s “sort of flamboyant and over the top and cheesy” personality, he decided to tackle the character in a different way. “I came in with a fresh viewpoint and tried to ground Magaldi in reality.  Of course I added in some of the flamboyant elements, a cheesy flourish here and there, but I treated him like a real person and a real performer with actual talent that you couldn’t argue.”

But the learning curve didn’t stop after Max landed the role. He said playing Magaldi “asks for the extremes of my body and my voice” which requires him to stay focused and while many performers arrive 30 minutes before curtain call, Max arrives at the Marquis an hour and a half early to warm up. “I do a thorough warm up of Pilates and yoga, I do a thorough vocal warm-up,” Max said. “The most obvious challenge for me is the dancing, even though there’s not much for me, what I have is extreme and it’s nothing I’ve ever taken on before.”

In addition to his role as Magaldi, Max is also the understudy for Ricky Martin and performs as Che, the story’s narrator, every Monday evening. “It’s hard to say what I prefer. Right now, it’s performing Magaldi. That’s my role, I was cast in that role,” Max said. But he said it’s an “absolute thrill” to play Che, even if he feels more of a bond with Magaldi.  “It’s very different. I’m possessive of Magaldi because it’s my role and I’m proud to have it. With Che, I try to fill in as best I can, maintaining the direction of the piece and respecting what other actors are doing. I love both characters.”

When it comes to shows Max has recently enjoyed attending, he mentions his Broadway bestie and Tony Award winner Steve Kazee who stars as Guy in Once.

“Once is still my favorite show on Broadway right now. I had no idea how transported I would be and how moved I would be. It’s a small, beautiful show. Something about it slowly takes over me and works itself into my veins. The story is beautifully paced and beautifully told. The music is so lovely and simple. I love it, I just love it,” Max said.

Max describes 2012 as an “incredible gift” professionally but said it was a challenging year personally.  “I have some friends who have had a very tough year and I’d like to be able to spend more time with them and my family in 2013.” So when Evita’s run ends, Max said he’s looking forward to time off “to breathe a bit more and enjoy life and friends” before continuing his professional pursuits.

He’ll continue seeking out theatre auditions but confessed that he’s going to be looking for television opportunities and other projects as well. “I haven’t really had any luck in that area but it doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying,” he said. But with new shows like The New Normal, 1600 Penn, Bunheads and Glee, just to name a few, which has taken theatre performers and placed them on television, there’s always the chance of a cross-over, something Max said he’s definitely interested in. “I expect to be working in this business for a very long time and I know my career will just keep evolving. It’s scary but exciting too.”

“It’s the instant gratification from live theatre,” Max said of why he enjoys performing. “You’re involved, you’re focused. Two hours go by and all of a sudden you breathe a sigh of relief and 1,600 people stand up and wipe their eyes or jump to their feet cheering because they had an incredible experience.” Max describes the feeling of standing in front of a cheering audience as “magical” and “an instant reward every night.” He said, “You see the results of your work immediately bringing joy to people. It’s incredibly rewarding.”

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About Samantha S.

"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald

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