Dick Jonas is a guitar-pickin' Vietnam War hero who says he still gets a kick out of putting on his blue air force suit. "You can call me a true-blue kind of guy," he says. "You can call me an old pilot who likes to have some fun every now and again."
You can also call him Ev.
The 51-year-old aviator has been chosen to play ex-Arizona Governor Evan Mecham in an upcoming Mill Avenue Theatre production of Guv: The Musical. Co-written by Candice Miles and Ben Tyler, with music by Jim Caldie, the new play opens January 25 at the Tempe theatre.
"I saw an announcement in the Sunday paper that they couldn't find an Ev," Jonas says. "I thought, `I look like him and I've done some singing and performing in public, so why not?' When I showed up, Ben Tyler did a triple take. I think he thought Ev himself had showed up to try out."
Jonas retired from the air force in 1986 as a lieutenant colonel after serving 22 years. The Florida native says he flew 125 missions as a fighter pilot in southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and earned "a little fruit salad to stick on my chest." By that, he means the Distinguished Flying Cross and numerous other military honors.
Fond memories of tours in the Southwest convinced Jonas to relocate in the Valley upon his retirement. These days, he's commander in chief at Cactus High School's Junior ROTC program. When he's not leading the troops at Cactus High, Jonas also writes country-western ditties.
"I didn't know much about Ev when we moved here," he says, trying to avoid discussion of politics and the demise of the Evster. "I have my own convictions, I'm a maverick, and I'm registered as an independent. That's about as far as I want to go with that."
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Actors playing local politicos Bruce Babbitt, Rose Mofford, Samuel "Terry" Goddard III, and Fife "Fife" Symington III also have been cast in Guv. Mill Avenue Theatre's Ben Tyler says he and co-writer Miles "are trying not to let Ev's role in recent Arizona politics dominate the proceedings."
That, he admits, has been easier said than done.
"One scene," Tyler says, "is a fantasy dream of Ev's in which his many foes appear before him like a Greek chorus and ask for his forgiveness. Ed Buck, for example, promises Ev that he'll never kiss a man again. Stuff like that."
Dick Jonas is looking forward, if a bit apprehensively, to life on the stage as Ev.
"I don't know if it's going to work," he says, "but I want to give it a shot. I'm a kind of folk musician, and the stuff I heard sounds like jazz to me. But what the heck. I just keep telling myself that if it wasn't for this face of mine, I'd be a nobody instead of a guy playing an ex-governor.