Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Evita!"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi

"EVITA"

lyrics by Tim Rice; music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
directed by Gordon Greenberg; choreographed by R. Kim Jordan musical direction by Stephen Purdy

Eva Peron … Felicia Finley
Peron … David Brummel
Che … Julio Agustin
Magaldi … John Whitney
Mistress … Claudia Koziner

Ensemble: Joan Bissell, Dieter Brommer, Jill Stacey Carlen, Rachel Cohen, Liz Donathan, Steve Geary, Colin Liander, Kevin B. McGlynn, Freddy Ramirez, Cayla Reddington, Christopher Regan, David Sattler, Timothy Shea, Jennifer Swiderski, Alana Thyng, Shorey Walker, Josh Young

Guitar … Josh Weinstein
Percussion … Steve Guinta
Bass … Steve Gilewski
Asst. Musical Director/Keyboard … Murray Snyder
Reeds … Charles Stamcampiano
Drums … James Allen

Though one is a rock- and the other a pop-opera, Mr. Townshend’s TOMMY and Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice’s EVITA have a few things in common: both were born in recording studios (as was JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR), both need directors/designers to convert their sounds into dramatic imagery, and both made rather dull films. Ogunquit Playhouse’s production of EVITA has also closed by now but it was better by a light-year over the Berkshire travesty.

EVITA is the sung-through tale of Argentina’s Eva Peron (1919-52) from her working-class childhood to her rise to as the powerful wife and First Lady of General Juan Peron, ending with her early death from cancer (a young Che Guevera serves as a cynical narrator). When director Harold Prince first brought EVITA to the West End and Broadway, critics grumbled that the Messrs. Lloyd Webber and Rice had reduced a complex, fascinating woman to a bitch who slept her way to the top and that the opera’s score (apart from “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina”) was mediocre. Several decades and thousands of world-wide performances later, EVITA is and remains one of Mr. Lloyd Webber’s masterpieces with its simple but sweeping plot and its alternating lush and minimalist music. Those who quibble do so afterwards, released from the lady’s grip.

Gordon Greenberg and R. Kim Jordan served up a faithful production --- faithful in period but also, as far as I can tell, to Harold Prince’s original staging (the two level set; the musical rocking chairs; the goose-stepping soldiers; the stirring Act One finale). There is nothing wrong with one director replicating another’s work --- depending on that other’s work, of course. In EVITA’s case, Mr. Prince’s concept was/is the way to go: if you compare the original studio album to the Broadway cast recording you will hear how Mr. Prince took an episodic work for the mind’s eye and turned it into a smooth, flowing night of musical theatre. The Messrs. Greenberg and Jordan may not have contributed any new insights to Ms. Peron’s life but they did give their audiences EVITA as it should be (the narrative’s sweep alone prevents any directorial departures). My only quibble is Eva’s appearance for “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina”: here is definitely an Entrance --- I always pictured the stage going dark and Eva glowing into being in a soft spotlight (the woman had been a popular film goddess as well as First Lady); instead, Mr. Greenberg’s Eva, in her Cinderella gown, carefully climbed up to the second level platform like a prom deb who had come home too late. The First Lady came in through the back door, so to speak….

Recently I quoted Elia Kazan saying there are eleven Blanches in STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE; Eva Peron is similarly multi-faceted --- her personality and moods lie in her many songs; scene by scene, a singer-actress must pull the right voice out of the right drawer. Felicia Finley was tin-voiced and lacked a ringing top as the young Eva; she deepened and moved in Act Two as Eva’s music became more mature, more middle-ranged and more doomed. David Brummel was a kindly, paternal Peron --- his physical resemblance to the late Ezio Pinza brought SOUTH PACIFIC very close to Argentina’s shores; Julio Agustin made a handsome but lightweight Che --- a sulky chorus boy, not a revolutionary. As with the Berkshire’s TOMMY, a one-number character stood out: here, John Whitney as tango singer Magaldi, Eva’s first meal ticket. Short, rotund and in rousing tenor voice for “On This Night of a Thousand Stars”, Mr. Whitney embodied every would-be lounge lizard that wows ‘em in the provinces but flounders in the Big Time --- a classic example of how casting against type can automatically deepen characters only sketched in by their creators.


"Evita" (21 July - 2 August)
OGUNQUIT PLAYHOUSE
Route 1, Ogunquit, ME
1 (207) 646-5511


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