The Andrew Lloyd Webber / Tim Rice rock opera, “Evita,” in a production at the Varsity Theater by the Davis Musical Theatre Company under the direction of Michael Miiller has several strong things going for it.
This story of Eva Peron, the second wife of Argentine president Juan Peron, needs a strong actress in the title role and DMTC has found its Evita in Andrea Eve Thorpe. Thorpe embodies the character of Eva, a poor girl from the country who slept her way to the top, first starring in B movies, then having her own radio show, and finally, as the consort and later wife to the Argentine dictator, becoming the most powerful woman in Argentina. Thorpe is a terrific singer and a good actress (and anybody who can step into a skirt on stage while wearing spike heels not only has great stage presence, but terrific balance as well!) Her rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” was outstanding, and her death from cancer, at age 33, was quite moving.
DMTC also has a good solid performer in Mike McElroy, who plays Che Guevara. Though there is no evidence that Eva and Guevara ever met one another, Webber and Rice use the character of Che to narrate Eva’s life story and at times serve as an observer or simply as a device that enables the authors to place Eva in a situation where she is confronted with direct personal criticism.. While McElroy’s performance lacked the “sizzle” one would like to see in the character, he still turned in a good performance. Unfortunately, during at least one scene the background chatter of the chorus was loud enough to drown out his words, even with the assistance of a body mic.
While Steve Isaacson doesn’t look like an Argentine, he ably exhibits the demeanor of Juan Peron and gets the opportunity to remind us what a very good singer he is.
A gem of a performance is turned in by Claire Lawrence as Peron’s young mistress, kicked out of his bed and his house upon Eva’s arrival. Her solo, “Another suitcase in another hall” was poignant and beautiful.
John Hancock is a sleazy Augustine Magaldi, Eva’s first lover whom she tricks into taking her to Buenos Aires, and then dumps. Hancock does a good bump and grind that has all the girls swooning.
There is a lot of difficult chorus work in “Evita” and the DMTC chorus, with musical direction by Isaacson, handled it beautifully. The opening number, “Requiem for Evita” and the first act finale, “A New Argentina” were superb.
Michael Miiller’s choreography was particularly good in the business for the “upper class” and the military, whose numbers were crisp and clean. Worthy of note is young Kaylynn Ruthleder, part of the “upper class” and just as crisp and clean as her adult counterparts.
Jean Henderson’s costumes were, as always, beautiful. Eva’s traditional white ballgown was a cloud of white tulle, and her on-stage costume changes were made easy by the front wrap gowns.
The cast needed better coordination with Steve deRosier’s lighting design, as too frequently characters who were supposed to be in the spotlight were only lit from the knees down.
The production uses the traditional movie screen in innovative and interesting ways. The opening movie (which is suddenly interrupted by the announcement of Eva’s death) was an originally filmed Spanish soap opera created, written and directed by Michael Miiller (and translated by Gloria Ochoa). (Pay close attention to the character names--Miiller’s little subtle joke).
Throughout the production, photos from Eva Peron’s life play on the screen, interspersed with live broadcast of the action from the stage. Someone should, however, do something about that annoying label that flashes on the screen after nearly every photo. It’s very distracting.
This production of “Evita” is one of DMTC’s better productions. There are little annoyances throughout (such as the slow scene transitions, presumably because of the length of time to change costumes), but for an ambitious community theater production of a difficult musical, this is worth seeing. The show runs weekends through January 30.