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EVITA on the press

EVITA on the press

Our first official article about the show:

Jerome’s Evita waits in the wings

By Smriti Daniel
The Workshop Players are putting into shape one of their most ambitious productions that will hit the boards come October


It opens with a funeral. Hundreds of thousands of mourners dressed in black swirl around a solitary casket. Their voices raised in grief seem to fill skies, cloaking all of Buenos Aires in sorrow. They are heard loudest in the villas miserias and louder still in the elegant homes of the Argentinian elite. They cry one name -“Evita!” – but there a man stands apart from the crowd. The same name is on his lips but he tells you that all he sees is a circus over a dead actress. “Your queen is dead, your king is through. She’s not coming back to you,” Ché, the narrator sings, quite unapologetic about being the bearer of bad news.

Jerome keen on portraying a tough protagonist. Pix by Indika Handuwala

Watching the scene unfold is another man with reservations about Eva Perón. Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, Jerome L. de Silva, Artistic Director of the Workshop Players, stands with his back to a wall of mirrors. In front of him, the ensemble is in full rehearsal. They’ve been at it for weeks and come October, they will become the only company to be staging the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical concurrently with Evita’s 2012 Broadway revival. For Jerome, this is the chance to revisit the musical and to come to a different conclusion. When Ceylon Theatres first staged it here in the 1980s, they played it soft, he says: “Evita wasn’t so hard, she was actually nice.”

This was no fault of Webber’s who never had any reservation about sharing his dislike of the woman his successful musical was based on. In fact the revival on Broadway, starring Ricky Martin as Ché, Elena Roger as Eva and Michael Cerveris as Juan Perón takes a much more cynical view of Evita’s life. Despite being beloved of millions and a woman who was all but deified by her people, Evita and her husband have more than once been accused of hubris, corruption and greed, with a penchant for repression and torture. Even if she was neither one nor the other, neither saint nor sinner but simply human, Evita’s extraordinary success feeds the imagination.

Born illegitimate and poor, she came to the city to try her hand at acting. By her own admission, she was never any good. However, she found the role of a lifetime when she became the wife of General Perón and the ardent champion of the descamisados or the ‘shirtless ones.’ “She climbed up – she slept her way to the top, it’s true – but she was an attractive woman and she wasn’t going to stay down there in the dumps,” says Jerome, who confesses, “I like the spunk in her, I like her guts.” It’s this toughness he wants his Evita to have. He admires the lack of polish that Elena Rogers has allowed to creep into her portrayal of Argentina’s most famous First Lady. He points out that Elena stirs in a hint of crudity that takes the edge of the almost cloying purity that some songs would otherwise have.

Jerome has had time to think this through – he flew to the States in June to watch the production on Broadway. He came away, his head buzzing with ideas for more elaborate sets and different interpretations of these familiar characters. “I’m going to play it authentic,” he says, using the musical’s most memorable track as an example. “‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ is for me, actually the most boring song in the whole thing, it’s a mawky melody. I’m treating it in a different way – I see it as very political,” he says. Right now, he’s wrestling his actors into shape. In the wings are four Evitas, two Chés, two Peróns and an ensemble over 50 players strong. “Typically, as of Workshop Player Productions, we have 80% – 82% new people,” says Jerome.

He’s working with assistant directors drawn from the group and the team take turns working on different aspects of the production such as singing and dance. “On Sundays I come and put in the sugar and the spice, the pepper and the salt and the screaming,” says Jerome, laughing. Even as he grapples with ‘Evita,’ he’s already looking ahead. In his car, he has the music of Jesus Christ Superstar, which he hopes will be their next production.

Whatever comes after this for the Workshop Players, this ambitious production marks the end of a period of dormancy. Jerome seems almost surprised by the reception they’ve received and the number of sponsors pouring out of the woodwork to offer their support. He credits some of this to their recent Retrospective which looked back on 20 years of successfully staging Broadway classics like ‘Les Misérables’, ‘Cats’, ‘Lion King’ and most recently, ‘The Sound of Music’ in 2008. He knows the foreign productions have the edge, in particular when it comes to their technology and to actors who can make a living out of their performances. Still, for Jerome the Workshop Players have always had that ineffable quality – real heart. “We’re pushing and pulling sets where there they have it all computerised but we have always overcome that by just a little imagination and hard work,” he says.

‘Evita’ is presented by the Workshop Players in arrangement with The Really Useful Group Ltd. It will go on the boards from October 5 to 14 at the Lionel Wendt Auditorium. The production stars Dilrukshi Fonseka, Shanuki de Alwis, Melanie Bibile, Dmitri Gunatilake, Mario de Soyza, Eraj de Silva, Shenoj de Alwis and Rehan Almeida. Directed by Jerome L. de Silva, with Surein De S. Wijeyratne as Assistant Director (Music) and Shanuki de Alwis Assistant Director (Choreography), the production is exclusively sponsored by Cargills Ceylon PLC and One Trust. Media sponsors are the Sunday Times, Daily Mirror, and Hi!! Magazine. Box office details will be announced in September.’

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EVITA Comes To Town!

One of the hottest ticket on Broadway is about to hit the shores of Sri Lanka this October!

The Workshop Players, famed for bringing the best of Broadway musicals such as ‘Cats’, ‘Les Miserables’, ‘The Lion King’, ‘Oliver!’ and ‘Sound of Music’ to the local stage, are now preparing for their next spectacular project, “EVITA” – An amateur production by arrangement with The Really Useful Group Ltd.

The musical originally directed Harold Prince with Lyrics by Tim Rice and Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber will be directed by Jerome de Silva.

Comprising of memorable songs like the powerful ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ and the feisty ‘Buenos Aires’ and hailed by Broadway reviewers as a ‘high-octane blockbuster’, this glamorous theatrical event chronicling the rise and fall of Argentine’s Eva Péron currently on Broadway featuring grammy winning superstar Ricky Martin promises to wow Sri Lankan audiences with a magical experience that only a masterful director like Jerome de Silva can create.

It is billed to be musical event of the year.

Comprising of a cast and crew of over 50 dancers, actors, singers and production people, ‘EVITA’ is scheduled to take to the boards from the 5th to the 14th of October 2012 at the Lionel Wendt Auditorium. The production will be exclusively sponsored by Cargills Ceylon PLC and One Trust.

Keep the dates free!

FB Event Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/358555747551331/

View photos from the WSP Evita rehearsals

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WSP – Sweet Sixteen

In 16 years…

We died on the barricades during the French student revolution. We danced at midnight to the light of the Jelicle moon.

We raided and pillaged the treasures of the Incas in Peru and despaired at the injustice of apartheid in Johannesburg.

We’ve been mobsters, soldiers, heathens and whores. We’ve been dancing cats and hysterical hyenas, dueling gangs and inseparable twins, starving street urchins and warring highlanders.

We’ve sung to tribal rhythms in Swahili and danced on the streets of New York.

We pursued the Phantom to the depths of the Parisian Opera House and delved into the psyche of a disabled Sri Lankan.

Not a bad resume eh?


Sixteen years ago… a bunch of school boys wanted to meet girls and theatre seemed like a good modus operandi. Jerome was co-opted into the plot and on the 7th of March 1992 The Workshop Players was created. Soon the love of theatre took over and the rest is… well… you know, history! We’ve been around long enough for most every theatre patron in Colombo to have seen and heard at least a few of our productions. Over the years the reviews and reactions to our shows have occasionally been mixed, but overall our audiences have always walked away enthralled and entertained.


The group has been constantly evolving ever since our humble attempt at Maxwell Andersons ‘Lost in the Starts’ in January 1993. From an unknown bunch of boys and girls under a well known theatrical guru, The Workshop’s annual productions are today very much a highlight of Colombo’s theatre calendar. We have evolved into our very own ‘style’ of theatre. Some commentators note they we limit our scope to the musicals, but we have quite successfully performed quite a range of ‘genres’ of theatre, from the local playwrights (Reggie Siriwardena and Ruwanthie de Chickera) to the world renown (Peter Shafer and Harold Pinter). We are, though, best known for the block-buster musical, probably due to the musical genres popularity here in Colombo and the sizable audience it attracts.


It’s difficult to pin down one single production or moment as the ‘crown jewel’ of our past. Consecutive standing ovations for every performance of Les Misarables (1996 & 1997) pops to mind. As does the memory of selling out Cats (1994) and The Lion King (1999 & 2000) long before opening night! Or maybe it was the thunderous ovations we received for this years’ Bugsy Malone or the sheer gut-wrenching silence that accompanied the performances of The Middle of Silence (1998) and The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1997). All in all, we’ve been on a 16 year-long roller coaster ride… ups and downs, pinnacles and debacles.


Debacle? This one’s easy to remember but hard to think about. The Phantom of the Opera (2002). The show that would have had you spell-bound, reverted and any other similar adjective you can think of. The production had everything… except the copyrights. We all know that before the incident took place no theatre group in this country ever considered paying for and obtaining performance rights for international productions. But even paying for it would not have given us rights to The Phantom – Webber keeps those for his own performing company. So it was a last minute cancellation, a cast full of broken hearts, wasted investments on special effects and two years of paying off financial debts. But we’re still here!


Like every HR manager or CEO will tell you “Our people are our greatest asset”, ‘The Workshoppers’, as we call ourselves, are indeed a rare bunch. Crazy, over-worked, talented, eccentric, and rather peculiar! Crazy and over-worked because they all have a day job that drives them up the wall. To say that they’re talented is obvious, but also an under-statement. Eccentric, because that’s what makes them WANT to be involved in theatre and peculiar they are far from being stereotypical or ‘normal’!

It has been fascinating and heart-warming to see some of The Players develop and excel at their own brand of theatre. Both Ruwanthie de Chickera and Jehan Aloysius, whose theatrical exploits need no further elaboration, spent the early part of their theatre careers with The Workshop and still remain our good friends.

Other Workshoppers are found everywhere! Not just on stage, but off stage as well. The regular Workshop crew is in demand for just about every production, be it on the lights board, crouching over the sound mixer or dressed in black, lifting, pulling or ‘flying’ back stage.

But we are also proud and fortunate enough to have had a few stalwarts in the likes of Noelene Honter, Mohan Sudusinghe and Mohomed Adamally on stage as part of our shows. Dilup Gabadamudalige in the past and now Ranga Dassanayake have provided us with some astounding music thanks to their musical and technological expertise.

Most important though, was the ‘discovery’ of a large number of young boys and girls who were part of our recent productions Oliver! and Bugsy Malone. Such a wealth of talent! Un-cut diamonds each and every one.

So, yes, our people are indeed our greatest asset.


My rambling thoughts turn quite abruptly to that beloved theatre that has housed every single one of our productions. The Wendt. Home of The Workshop and of almost all theatre in Colombo. Its amazing that 55 years after it was built, it is still the most sought-after theatre venue in Colombo. Some schools and institutions have spent stupendous amounts of money on ‘auditoriums’ and halls, but none have come close to the Wendt in terms of its utility, acoustics and ambience. The Wendt is still the ONLY theatre with proper fly’s, decent lighting, crystal clear acoustics and a potent sound system. The Workshop has tried to invest what ever money we could spare in the theatre itself and we in turn have benefited from that investment. Our relationship with the theatre extends naturally into a close friendship with the theatre management and staff, who have all been a vital part of all our shows.


We tried to experiment in what ever way our limited resources would allow in putting on a better show, regularly pushing ourselves and the limitations of the Wendt. If ever attempted, we could draw up an impressive list of “first to do this or that” in local theatre! All our finances are sunk into each show, and we retain little or no money after each show, at one point using five different types of smoke machines in one production, just to create the ‘right’ effect, as determined by Jerome obviously! We’ve used some state-of-the-art lighting and the best sound equipment we could find, all at a cost, because we believe that the audience deserves as good as we can deliver. We even roamed the streets of Kotahena to find the perfect gauge of steel cable to be able to levitate a few dancers safely but invisibly!


So what happens next? Well, we’re booked in for dates in October and are debating the possibilities and negotiating for the performing rights for a few alternatives. Since nothing is finalized, I won’t commit, but, you can be sure we’re throwing ourselves into it, heart and soul, and hopefully we won’t disappoint you!


This piece does seem to have an obsequious and self gratifying overtone to it, doesn’t it? You know, ‘been there, done that’ ya di ya di ya… No self-critique, no unbiased evaluation either!

Well that’s not really what I set out to do. Let the critics do their job. I just wanted to put down a piece on the last 16 years of our history and the theatre we’ve produced because we feel good about it. And I do believe it was 16 years of good theatre. So, let’s just leave it at that, shall we?

See you at the Wendt!

Surein de S. Wijeyeratne

(March 2008)

Note: The author is one of the founder members of The Workshop Players.


Welcome to the Official WorkShop Players Blog

A huge hello to all of you. This blog will facilitate the entirety that is WorkShop Players in Sri Lanka. For news, updates, production history, future projects, actors, actresses, techniques and everything we know about theatre.

We look forward to sharing our knowledge and the power of drama with you all!!