Theater

Coral Gables third-grader lands on Broadway in ‘Evita’

 

Ava-Riley Miles, a third-grader at St. Thomas Episcopal, realizes her Broadway dream and lands a singing role in the Evita revival with co-star Ricky Martin.

hcohen@MiamiHerald.com

Ava-Riley Miles is like many young girls when it comes to Wicked.

She thinks the Tony-winning Stephen Schwartz musical is wicked good, has memorized its songs, and idolizes its star, Kristin Chenoweth, who played Glinda, one of the good witches of Oz.

“I want to be like her when I’m older,” Ava-Riley says.

Sure, kid. So do many.

But did we mention that Ava-Riley started singing those songs at age 2-1/2 after her parents, two attorneys from Coral Gables, brought the Wicked CD cast recording home?

“I didn’t realize she was memorizing the whole thing,” mom Susan Trujillo said. “She said, ‘I want to sing for you’ and sang Popular, the whole song. My mom said, ‘Get a video camera, because that is not normal.’ ”

Indeed. Within six months Ava-Riley was pestering her parents to take her to see Wicked when its road tour hit Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center for the Performing Arts. She sat transfixed by the colorful production. By age 3, she’d announced her goal. “She said, ‘One day I will be in Wicked,’ ” on Broadway, no less, mom recalls.

Wicked can wait because Ava-Riley, now 8, is in the middle of a month-long run co-starring on Broadway in the Evita revival with leads Ricky Martin as Che and Elena Roger as Eva Perón. Ava-Riley has the role of Child, a newly-written solo spotlight in the second act. Her big moment comes as she sings the mournful Santa Evita to the dying title character in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s enduring musical. Originally, Santa Evita was sung by a children’s chorus. Perhaps it would have been a solo number all along had Webber and Rice stumbled upon the likes of young Ava-Riley when they conceived of Evita in the early 1970s.

“She has a charming personality on stage … and has that ‘it’ thing as far as being on stage and sparkling in a group,” says Earl Maulding, youth director for Actors’ Playhouse. Before Broadway, Ava-Riley made the rounds at Actors’ Playhouse and Area Stage in Coral Gables, and the Miami Children’s Theater.

“Her voice has always sounded a little mature for her age,” Maulding says.

Both parents, also mom and dad to Harrison, 6, and Eloise, 4, tease that acting talent wasn’t in her genes.

“I can assure you it doesn’t come from me,” said dad Seth Miles, a trial lawyer. “I’m the least artistic person in the world. She was born an old soul.”

At 5, Ava-Riley’s parents finally took her to New York to see Wicked on Broadway and, through happenstance, met a cast member from The Lion King who took Ava-Riley on a backstage tour.

“I’m more of a realist,” Trujillo says. “Theater has so many ups and downs, it’s an emotional rollercoaster for a child when they get a part or don’t get a part. As a mom I want to protect her. But my husband said let her try. So we got up here, got an agent, and within two weeks she was sent on an audition for Evita.”

Mom and dad were both more nervous than Child.

“I used to be with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a federal prosecutor. I’m used to trying cases and standing up and making arguments. But I was as nervous as I’ve ever been. I cried through the whole thing,” says Miles, who has seen about five performances.

Evita is set to close Jan. 26 upon Martin’s exit from the production. Ava-Riley and her mom have a rented apartment on the Upper West Side and her teacher from St. Thomas has sent lesson plans so Ava-Riley can keep up with her school work in January.

“It’s a dream come true to be with all these actors that have done it a lot. It feels like a dream,” says a poised Ava-Riley. “I thought I was very lucky. The cast is wonderful. At first, I was a little nervous but after opening night everyone treated me so well, so I was comfortable with these people and the show.”

The plan is for Ava-Riley to return to her home in the Gables after Evita’s run. Should a suitable part become available for a child actor on Broadway — not a routine occurrence — Ava-Riley and her parents agree they’d be game to let her audition again.

As for Evita, with its occasional rough language and adult themes, and how it compares to the more innocent world of Wicked?

Let Ava-Riley answer: “The music in Evita is great — although the concept is a little awkward.”

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

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