When we spoke with Ana Isabelle, the young Puerto Rican-born singer-actress who stars in Asolo Rep’s season opener, Evita, this month, she was about to leave for Argentina. “I’ve watched documentaries about Evita, I’ve read books, and I’ve watched the original show and the revival, at the New York Public Library,” she says. “But I’m so excited about playing her, and I feel so responsible to the role, that I wanted to go beyond what people are expecting from me. I want to walk the streets she walked, visit the places she did, feel the vibe of Argentina.”
The elusive Eva Peron has fascinated and frustrated millions for years. Controversial and charismatic, Eva packed a lot into her 33 years of life, and Isabelle says, “As an actress, I need to be her, to feel what she is feeling. I don’t judge her. I agree with some things she did, and I don’t agree with others. But she was a very brave woman. At a moment when men ruled, she dared to go after what she wanted.”
Sounds a bit like Isabelle herself, who has known from the age of 5 that she wanted to be a singer and actress. “I told my parents, and they said OK,” she says. “My dad’s a trumpet player and teacher; my mother’s a singer and teacher. It’s in my blood, and they’ve supported me my entire life.”
So Isabelle (who’s been hailed as “An Artist to Watch” by Billboard magazine), worked her way up in show business, performing as a backup dancer and singer for Latin stars including boy band Menudo. At first her focus was the music world; she has released three albums, including Mi Sueno (which debuted on No. 3 on the Billboard Top Latin Albums charts), and won Univision’s music reality show Viva el Sueno’s search for the next Latin music superstar.
“For four years, I stopped my acting career,” she says. “But then I wanted to do something different, to start from scratch. I decided to move to New York, I found a great manager, and my focus became acting. Now doors are opening,” with film roles in the upcoming Imprisoned, starring Laurence Fishburne, and the remake of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dementia 13.
They certainly opened for her at Asolo Rep, where her audition for Evita staggered director-choreographer Josh Rhodes. “I barely took a breath as she sang one song after another,” he says. “The voice made my back straighten.”
And Isabelle is working hard to maintain that voice through rehearsals and the run of the production, studying with famed voice teacher Aaron Hagan (who’s assisted Ariana Grande and other stars), getting plenty of sleep and even changing her diet. “The voice is a muscle, and I need to work it every day but also give it rest,” she says. “Once I start the show, I’ll see if I need to make adjustments to keep up my energy. Overall, I want to respect the music and the lyrics, but add what she makes me feel, have my own sound, put my own style to work.” You can see and hear the results, Nov. 14 through Dec. 30, on the Asolo’s Mertz stage.