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‘Evita’ flexes the power of music PDF Print E-mail

"Alexis DeDonato does a fine job as Peron’s ousted mistress in “Another Suitcase in Another Hall."

---TOM BUTLER • For The News Journal • March 22, 2010

Director Chris Alberts and his talented cast capture the theatrical impact of the performance

By TOM BUTLER • For The News Journal • March 22, 2010

The reverential production of “Evita” now playing at New Candlelight Theatre knows how to exploit the power of the music. Director Chris Alberts hews to an operatic approach in staging, set design and lighting. All of this heightens the theatrical impact of the performance. This is a pop opera with a decidedly political text. While few in the audience are likely to know much about the historical figures on which the show is based, the storyline itself provides plenty of political background. And it does so with a diverse mix of musical styles.

Using a narrator called simply Che but who is clearly Che Guevara with his beard , battle dress uniform and iconic beret, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice present a highly theatrical recounting of the rise and fall of another political icon, this one from the 1940’s and 50’s—Eva Peron. She was the official Spiritual Leader of the Argentine People and the wife of despot Juan Peron. This pair co-opted a populist movement and turned it into decades of dictatorship.

Jeffrey Higgins makes a persuasive Che, coloring all of his lyrics with appropriate irony and understanding when to fling a comic barb. His voice is strong and resonant both in the opening funeral oration and even more in the rousing anthem “A New Argentina” that ends Act I. Throughout the show, he directs the audience into the dark crevices of Eva’s popularity.

Molly Tower plays Eva and while she hardly fits the physical type of the tiny “Evita”, she has a beautiful voice and solid acting skills. Her work in the first scenes depicting the 15-year old Eva is a bit tentative and unconvincing but in the cynical “Goodnight and Thank You” she starts to capture the growing sophistication of the character. She seduces Peron persuasively in “I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You” and she really galvanizes the audience with her pleas to the masses in “A New Argentina." She is dazzling singing the signature song “Don't Cry for Me Argentina” bathed in brilliant spot lights. Tower is equally persuasive in the dying woman’s final radio broadcast.

Paul Weagraff looks and acts like political animal as Peron. The staging of “The Art of the Possible” uses a game of musical chairs with white rockers to explain how a clever man may rise to power. He has the voice and bearing for the role and is effective in quieter moments that betray real affection for his wife and co-conspirator.

While much of the action is well framed, particularly the group work for the aristocrats and soldiers in “Peron's Latest Flame”, some of Dann Dunn’s choreography seems unnecessarily stiff and stylized. The dramatic sets are dark and suggestive and easily manipulated by lighting effects to become a plaza, a bedroom or a tavern.

The 20-person cast provides strong singing across a challenging range of musical styles from sacred chants, though Tango flavored songs to driving rock numbers.

Alexis DeDonato does a fine job as Peron’s ousted mistress in “Another Suitcase in Another Hall. The New Candlelight version of “Evita” offers an intelligent and edifying take on the material.

 

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