Sunday, October 21, 2018

Review of "Evita"

One of Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice’s first musicals was Evita.  This normally large-scale theatrical work, which traces the rise and fall of Argentina’s former first lady Eva Peron, has been reimagined for the small stage by ACT of Connecticut Artistic Director Daniel Levine.  The result is a rousing, passionate production that can be riveting and emotionally satisfying.

The story of Eva Maria Duarte, later Eva Peron after marrying Army officer and future Argentine President Juan Peron, is one of determination and fortitude.  From a poverty-stricken background, she literally claweda her way to the top to become, in the late 1950’s, one of the most revered and authoritative woman in the world.  The musical traces her life from her teenage years, through her ascent to power, to her untimely death at a very young age.  Webber and Rice have cleverly added the character of Che Guevara, a contemporary of Eva Peron, but someone not in her sphere, to act as a one man Greek Chorus, commenting on the action and serving as a moral compass during the show.

The score, by the duo behind such works as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar, is stirring and impassioned, delivered with a fervor and zeal by the talented performers.  Since there is no book to the show, the compositions need to communicate the dramatic narrative, which they do with a burst of boisterous gusto and ardent exhilaration.  There is the musical’s signature song, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” but that is just one of many finely crafted numbers.

The entire cast is superb, from the leads to the supporting players to members of the ensemble.  They are led by Julia Estrada as Eva Peron.  The actress is seductive, elegant, and charming as she transforms from a diffident, but resolute young woman to a self-confident, mature leader.  Ms. Estrada also possesses the vocal power to belt out the demanding score.  Angel Lozada’s Che is the soul of the production.  The actor brings a dynamic intensity that commands the audience’s attention.  As Juan Peron, the elected Argentine leader, Ryan K. Bailor is more muted in his performance, but he exudes a forceful presence that is a perfect counterpoint to the other very charismatic and vibrant central characters.

Director Daniel Levine has successfully laid out his artistic vision of presenting the musical in a more stripped down version without sacrificing quality or emotional synergy.  He has the acting troupe well-drilled as they swing from highly charged performances to more nuanced work.  The director adroitly inserts the character of Che into the center of the Perons’ orbit, which allows the story to be more expansive and finely layered.

Choreographer Charlie Sutton has fashioned lively, vigorous dances that are expressive and affective.

Jack Mehler’s minimal scenic design and lighting set-up provide just enough of the essential production elements for the musical to succeed.

Evita, a spirited and impressive presentation, playing at ACT of Connecticut in Ridgefield, CT through November 11th.

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