For their final offering of the season playing through July 6th at the Walnut Street Theatre in what is being heralded as a newly conceived and designed version, is Tim Rice's and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita.
Based on the life of Eva Peron, second wife of Argentine dictator, Juan Peron, Evita opened on Broadway in 1978 to critical acclaim, garnering a Tony for Patti Lupone in the title role. One of the first sung-through musicals, it was dramatically staged by Hal Prince and featured stunning performances by Mandy Patinkin as Che and Lupone as Eva. Don't Cry for Me Argentina became a breakout pop hit on the radio and was covered by many contemporary singers. Though none of the other songs made it outside of the context of the show, nevertheless, there are still some exciting numbers such as Rainbow High, Buenos Aires, On This Night of a Thousand Stars, High Flying Adored and A New Argentina
Ana Maria Andricain does a terrific job as Eva Peron. With a sweet legit sound and a high belt, she makes the singing of this tough (singer unfriendly) score appear easy. And her development of Eva's character from excited, hungry teenager to calculating political diva is well built dramatically. She is well matched both vocally and actorialy by Jeffrey Coon who succeeds in playing the cynical narrator/conscience of the piece, Che Guevara, very well. It is a nice stretch for Mr. Coon who is usually cast as the male ingenue. Unfortunately, Scott Holmes gives a very cold, uncaring interpretation and one dimensional performance as Peron. One could argue that it is just another take on an historical character. However, I find it hard to believe that a man who had his wife's body mummified (and then secreted away for over a decade so that it would be safe from the new regime) wasn't utterly devoted to her. Christina DeCicco does a good job as Peron's mistress with her one number, Another Suitcase in Another Hall. And of special note was the baton slapping male chorus who are clad in guerilla togs complete with silver toed boots that jingle like tap shoes.
The very opening of this show finds the actors as themselves warming up onstage getting ready to "put on a show" for us. We see Jeffrey Coon being hoisted up into the rafters on a rope by two visible stagehands. All this activity preceeds the opening of the show proper. Once the Requiem begins Mr. Coon flies in dramatically from stage heaven to great affect. Director, Bruce Lumpkin has staged a very active production with a lot of added dancing, a good portion of which is done as backdrops to other scenes. I must admit that it does lend a certain ambience to the whole theatrical experience - as a sort of "moving wallpaper", if you will. But sometimes it tends to split the focus and we, as the audience, are left wondering whether we should be paying more or less attention to it. And because I enjoyed the choreography by Richard Stafford, I didn't want to miss anything. His segments with the male chorus were especially fun and a refreshing break to the generally heavy tone of the musical. In retrospect, I think the director was going for a "cinematic" take on the material and in this he is successful. But what he sacrifices is the simplicity and dramatic force of focus. The scene that doesn't work at all, (which oddly enough has simplicity and focus) is the death scene -- where Mr. Lumpkin has Eva propped up in a wheelchair. Trapping Eva in one position, the scene seems static and doesn't work as well as the original death bed scene.
The versatile set by John Farrell is a series of ornate, metal stairways, platforms and balustrades which work well. The costumes by Colleen McMillan are striking and especially flattering to Ms. Andricain, as they should be. The musical direction by Louis F. Goldberg is rock solid with terrific performances by the chorus and orchestra. It's a different and (though not always successful) sometimes very exciting version of what I feel is Andrew Lloyd Webber's best musical and well worth the price of admission.
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