Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Andrew Lloyd Webber has certainly had his share of theatrical hits, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera. However, many feel that Webber's best work can be found in his collaboration with lyricist Tim Rice for Evita. Premiering more than twenty-five years ago, the show has enjoyed worldwide success, including a 1980 Tony Award for Best Musical and a 1996 feature film starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas. The current national tour of Evita is overseen by many involved with the original New York production and remains entertaining and satisfying, despite somewhat showing its age.
Evita explores the historical life and times of Eva Peron, wife of post-WWII Argentine dictator Juan Peron. The show emphasizes Eva's unbridled ambition and follows her rise from poverty to celebrated saint of a nation as wife of the President. Webber and Rice use the character of Che Guevara, a real-life Argentine revolutionary, to serve as narrator for the story. He comments and criticizes Eva and her actions throughout the show, and explains the social and political impact of her ascent.
The musical is a pop/rock-opera, with no dialogue and told entirely through song. While Webber and Rice had previously used this format successfully for Jesus Christ Superstar, it was with Evita that their collaboration fully blossomed. Their score is highly theatrical and perfectly suited to the gripping story. Webber succeeds musically with the beautiful "High Flying Adored," the fast-paced "Buenos Aires" (showing Eva's arrival to the big city"), and, of course, the famous "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina," among others. Rice's biting and efficient lyrics are best on display in "Good Night and Thank You," where Eva quickly dispenses of consecutive lovers once she has used them to move up the social ladder; the comical "Rainbow Tour"; and "And The Money Kept Rolling In", Che's angry account of Eva and Juan's financial raping of the country.
This tour boasts choreography and a reproduction of the original direction (by Harold Prince) by original choreographer Larry Fuller and "production supervision" by Mr. Prince himself. Because of their involvement, the show is a very close replication of the original Broadway staging. This is both good and bad. It is is an asset because much of the pair's work is wonderful. The song "The Art of the Possible," in which a game of musical chairs is used to represent the power struggle and eventual rise of Juan Peron in the Argentine military, is pure directorial brilliance. The staging and choreography for "Peron's Latest Flame" is likewise splendid. There are several other great moments provided by Prince and Fuller that also produce theatrical magic. The only drawback to their continued involvement is that the production doesn't feel fresh in any way. If you have seen the Broadway production or one of the many previous national tours, then you've seen this one, too, for the most part. Seeing basically the same production over and over again makes one wonder what a different approach might bring to the piece. Still, for those experiencing the show for the first time, there is much to appreciate.
The musical's age shows a little bit through this production too. Most of today's shows (which lean heavily toward musical comedy) keep a frenetic pace, offer many bells and whistles in design, and contain likable, sympathetic characters. Evita isn't really like that, and relies mostly on the strong score and directorial concept instead.
The role of Eva is a vocally and physically demanding one, and Kathy Voytko is up to the task. She provides a powerful singing voice and a textured and layered portrayal of the title character, displaying the right level of ambitious attitude. If she seems a little too overdramatic in a few spots, the real Eva Peron was overly extravagant in expressing emotions herself. Keith Byron Kirk is a newcomer to the tour, but he is completely captivating as Che. He possesses a wonderful vocal instrument that is put to great use, and his sarcastic delivery of Che's material is perfect. Mr. Kirk also possesses first-rate stage presence, which is most clearly evident when he performs "And The Money Kept Rolling In." As Juan Peron, Philip Hernandez sings capably and is appropriately stately and manipulative. Gabriel Burrafato (Magaldi) and Heidi Dean (Mistress) impress in their supporting roles. The entire ensemble asserts itself well in their execution of the remaining roles also.
The scenic design by James Fouchard is based on the original by Tim O'Brien and uses smaller movable set pieces and a large screen for projections. For the most part, the photos and video help to clarify setting and atmosphere, but there are a few instances (especially in the opening scenes) where they distract from the action on stage. Costumes (O'Brien) and lighting (Richard Winkler) are sufficient and appropriate. Elaine Davidson ably leads a talented twelve-piece orchestra, which unfortunately overpowers the singers on several songs.
Evita possesses a strong score by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The current national tour closely resembles many past professional productions thanks to the involvement of original director Harold Prince and choreographer Larry Fuller. This tour also boasts some worthwhile performances. Though current audiences may be accustomed to a different type of show, this musical holds up well as a wonderful piece of theater depicting a real life character and her place in history.
Evita continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through September 18, 2005. Tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 294-1816.-- Scott Cain