Musical theater director Evan Gadda runs the stage with a little help from his friends.
Evan Gadda doesn’t want people to feel self-conscious about telling him to “Break a leg”—despite the fact that he uses a high-tech wheelchair to navigate, dance and direct his actors. The director of Always…Patsy Cline, showing through Nov. 10 at Reno’s Studio on 4th, wants to hear that classic phrase. It’s music to his ears.
At the Wolf Perk café inside UNR’s ever-transforming student union, Gadda—dressed in a Blue Angels ballcap, gray polo and khaki pants—is full of anticipation as he speaks about the special significance directing Always…Patsy Cline.
“Patsy’s about friendship,” Gadda explains, his cell phone and a classic silver whistle on a lanyard around his neck. “And friendship has gotten me through this disability. I have CP—cerebral palsy—and if it wasn’t for friends, like Kristin Moffitt, the producer of the show, I wouldn’t be able to do this. Friends have been very supportive of me, all my life. My disability’s very painful, but my friends help me.”
Gadda’s grand forte’s always been musical theater, he asserts, adding that he’ll get his associate’s degree in the discipline from TMCC in 2009.
“Musical theatre takes me away, to a place where I don’t have any pain. Theatre is my life, and it always will be. I’m an actor. Despite my disability, I’ve done 28 shows, from my chair.”
Since his 1970 birth in Reno, Gadda’s been afflicted with CP, a permanent condition fraught with immobility, obstacles and challenges that ultimately increased his tenacity.
“It was hard because I was on a [therapy] program for four years that was very rigorous. They used to come to my grandma’s house and move my arms and legs, and try to teach me how to walk.”
The high-mileage wheelchair Gadda now calls “my legs” is a liberating distance from childhood, when his grandma carried him in her arms. Performing in A Christmas Carol at age 12 was a pivotal influence, ushering him toward his destiny in the performing arts, a theatrical path he continued to pursue in Reed High School productions. Today, Gadda says, it’s his grandmother who deserves accolades.
“This show will be dedicated to my grandma. She’s 92 years old and has congestive heart failure. She raised me. During the early years, she told me that I could do anything I set my mind to. She would not let me give up. She’s not doing too well, so the show [is for] her. She’s very weak, but she wants to see it very badly. It was her that got me through the early years of my life.”
Wanting “to be normal” is an endless theme for this creative force, who also acknowledges his aunt, Dr. Francine Mannix, a retired pediatrician (“I owe her a big thank-you.”), as well as TMCC teachers Carolyn Wray and Paul Aberasturi (“They’ve gone above-and-beyond for me.”), and UNR professors Howard Rosenberg (“He says, ‘Kiddo…you have to persevere.’”) and Jake Highton (“He taught me a lot.”). Reynolds School of Journalism staffer Paul Mitchell says Gadda—a grad student in communications—has both a wicked sense of humor—and an evocative story.
“I love his spirit,” says Mitchell, recalling the unforgettable time Gadda sang the national anthem before a basketball game. “For him to be here, working as hard as he is, is a testament to the kind of person he is and what he means to this campus. I don’t think there’s too many people who don’t know who Evan is. He makes you really take stock in what you have and what you’re doing. When you look at what that young man has overcome, it overshadows what anybody goes through. He truly is an inspiration.”
As audiences begin to recognize his tremendous capabilities as a director, Gadda—who has worked with Gilligan’s Island actress Dawn Wells, the Reno native he calls “one of my best friends”—says many people naturally ask how he’s managed to overcome and achieve so much.
“Life is what you make it,” Gadda states. “Life doesn’t come to you saying, ‘Oh you poor thing.’ You have to get out there and say, ‘Hey, here I am—Evan—notice me.
Evan’s career’s has already taken him to Carnegie Hall in New York City, when he sang with the UNR choir in February.
Two of his students have been on Broadway … Joyce Chittic in Sweet Charity and Sean Palmer as Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid, opening Dec. 6.
Gadda, who lives with four others with varying degrees of disabilities in a local group home, believes that musical theater is experiencing a renaissance, citing film versions of The Phantom of the Opera and the forthcoming, Tim Burton-helmed Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, starring Johnny Depp.
“I think people should appreciate musical theater more. It’s truly an art form in itself. [It] can take you to different worlds. People need to be inspired nowadays.”
While he hopes that the increasing appreciation and popular support of local arts will continue, he is a stickler for protocal. At a recent opera performance, an audience member committed an annoying faux pas that Gadda admits is one of his biggest pet peeves.
“They walked in late during the overture,” he says, shaking his
head. “I hate that. A big door closed—whap! And cell phones; I hate when they go off during a show. I think they should be confiscated.”
On the workspace attached to the wheelchair of this outspoken, die-hard Democrat is a flyer announcing Barack Obama’s Reno stop, a current event that prompts Gadda to unhesitatingly comment about the Bush administration, insisting that his remarks be off-the-record. He quickly launches into his distinctive, trademark guffaw.
“I don’t have my mind made up [about the vote],” he stresses, then laughs loudly. “ Just no more Republicans!”
Like Gadda’s story itself, Always…Patsy Cline is a bittersweet blend of contradictions harmoniously at work. The whimsical show—replete with two dozen songs, executed by Youth ArtWorks student Blaise Boyland in the title role, with YAW’s executive director Kristin Moffitt ridin’ shotgun and singin’ back-up with a five-piece band in a comedic send-up that practically channels the immortal magically comic dynamics between Lucy and Ethel—is at once knee-slapping and poignant, reminiscent yet timeless.
Moffitt, who has known Gadda for 15 years and witnessed his tremendous professional growth, says the play will likely be a defining project in a successful career.
“Evan’s passion and devotion for the theater is unmatched,” Moffitt says. “His insight into this production and the characters are the manifestation of his creative power.”