'Evita' visually stylish, a bit soft
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Theatre Critic
Thursday through Saturday.
Army Community Theatre at Richardson Theater.
$12, $15 ($6 and $8 children).
The Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical on the life of Argentina's Eva Peron is a wonderful vehicle for Chesnut, who sounds great, looks wonderful and is beautifully showcased in the production by Army Community Theatre.
Imagine the stage as a black box hung with swags of red. Picture a drab crowd gathered at the foot of a political grandstand. Then Eva Peron materializes high above, wearing a Cinderella gown and bathed in a golden glow. Embracing the air, she launches the show's signature song, "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," while the crowd canonizes her as their saviour. Chesnut crowns the moment and all of her songs with a confident, crystal voice that makes every syllable ring clear.
It's the show's pivotal moment, and the ACT production, directed by Stephanie Conching, grabs onto it and makes it work.
Understand, however, that this is not a happy, feel-good musical. It begins and ends with Evita's death and traces a career that was gritty, grasping and filled with opposition. But the production is an excellent example of storytelling, where plot and characters evolve through the musical numbers that neatly integrate dance and spectacle. And while the short life of a South American political figure may be an obscure subject for the American stage, audiences easily relate to the success story of a girl from poor origins who claws her way to power and adoration.
The entire production looks and sounds good. Designers Tom Giza and Chet Toni use drops and lights to excellently frame and focus the action, and Kathy Kohl's costumes set Evita like a jewel in a setting of political poverty. Lina Jeong Doo's orchestra and chorus perform capably while Derek Daniels' choreography moves the action and adds excitement.
With so many good things going on, can we ask for more? Certainly.
It would be ideal if the featured male singers could match Chesnut's strength and vitality. And it would help if the entire tone had a sharper, more dangerous edge.
Alex Santiago looks the part of Juan Peron, but fails to convince us that the man was a grasping dictator with a brutal streak. Joshua Harris steps out of the crowd as Che, but sings with a soft and wispy voice that loses lyrics and lacks the animal tension that makes Che a dangerous threat. Kalani Hicks has neither the voice nor the magnetism to be a convincing heartthrob singer as Magaldi.
Stefanie Okuda has a good moment, however, as Peron's dispossessed mistress on "Another Suitcase in Another Hall."
One wishes, too, that Conching had explained to the cast that this is not a story filled with nice people. Eva Peron slept her way up into Peron's bed, commandeered national charities and had the audacity to run for vice president. Juan Peron ruthlessly eliminated his political opponents and Che was a radical guerrilla fighter. All were blatant opportunists that might have been ridden out of town on a rail were it not for Eva's wild popularity and early death from cancer.
But despite the disappointing male voices and somewhat soft tone, "Evita" is a successful package for ACT, with much visual appeal.