Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Another Evita in Another Hall
Also see Bob's review of Anton in Show Business
The Helen Hayes Theatre Company, just a few minutes from the northern end of NJ's Garden State Parkway, is another theatrical venue for northern NJ theatre enthusiasts. It is currently presenting a new production of Evita, the Andrew Lloyd-Webber Tim Rice semi-rock opera that many regard as the best of their triumphs.
As directed by Gordon Greenberg, this production appears to be a faithful adaptation of the original Harold Prince staging. For local fans of Evita, this is an opportunity for them to revisit their Santa Evita.
In this staging, there is a flow and intensity which turns a montage of songs and arias depicting a series of events in the life of Eva Peron into a dramatic whole. The staging spotlights the intense religious fervor with which the average Argentinean came to regard Eva Peron, and the libretto emphasizes the skeptical, denigrating view of the narrator Che, a rebellious young man, whose persona suggests the image of Argentina born Che Guevara.
The brilliance of the creators' concept is that it allows them to present their Evita as an outsized diva without beatifying the fascistic Perons.
David Brummel is outstanding as Juan Peron. Although he has toured extensively in this role, his performance feels totally fresh. Brummel sheds the aura of brutal fool propelled to power by an ambitious wife with which Peron is often portrayed, to give us a sharp, calculating, manipulating dictator who is Eva's equal in calculation and more surefooted as their world crumbles. His singing is clear and strong, and, while Eva would not be attracted to any man without power and wealth, Brummel displays a smooth charm and warmth to her which makes their relationship more dimensional.
Frank Baiocchi is a likeable Che, but, while he depicts Che's bursts of bitter anger, he comes across as more of an alienated lightweight American youth than an angry, explosive revolutionary.
Outstanding in a small featured role is Claudia Koziner as the Juan Peron mistress whom Eva displaces. Her gorgeously sung "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" is electric. Vincent D'Elia is an excellent Magaldi, the sleazy singer destined to be the first man used by the ambitious Eva Duarte. (Theatre agents please note that, according to the program, this talented veteran of Broadway, major regionals and the road is seeking representation).
The choreography by featured actress Kim Jordan is evocative of the story's time and place. While it seems to reflect the original concepts of Larry Fuller, it is graceful and fluid work. The lighting design of Richard Latta, especially the backlit silhouettes, is exceptional.
The reduced synthesized orchestrations (there are six musicians) are adequate for this relatively small capacity venue. They seem to emphasize the rhythmic side of the music.
A couple of years back, Gordon Greenberg (whose billing in the program appears to be at least double the size of anyone else) directed a highly acclaimed production of Jesus Christ, Superstar at the Helen Hayes, setting the Biblical story of the dawn of Christianity in a Latin American dictatorship. There is nothing as original or provocative in his work here. At this remove, I am unable to identify any details which are original to this production. However, there is a welcome cinematic feel to the production largely accomplished by the widescreen effect achieved in scenes staged on a large, boxed-in upstage platform. It is in this space that red back lighting creates striking images.
Despite all the good work, the evening is placid and only mildly entertaining. Lloyd-Webber has set a considerable hurdle for any production of Evita by making the score for the title role a monstrous challenge for any singer-actress. And without a strong Eva Duarte de Peron, for me, there cannot be a truly stirring and moving Evita.
Although it is certain that the talented Felicia Finley will continue to build a successful career, her Eva Peron simply is not up to snuff. At the performance seen, her top notes were shrill and her voice sometimes cracked. The strains that the role has placed on her voice probably account for the fact that even singing the beautiful "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," her notes were not mellifluous (my memory is that much of the same was true for Patti LuPone in the original Broadway production).
Finlay plays Eva Peron throughout in the manner of the tough teenage Eva Duarte. The only sophistication that is apparent is in the costumes and wigs. This may be an intentional and valid interpretation, but it deprives the performance of star quality.
The Helen Hayes Theatre Company is due praise for tackling the large and difficult Evita and bringing it to Nyack.
Evita will continue through November 2 at the Helen Hayes Theatre, 121 Main Street, Nyack, NY 10960. Box Office: 845-358-2847; online: www.hhtco.org.
Evita lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; directed by Gordon Greenberg; Cast: Felicia Finlay (Eva Peron); David Brummel (Peron); Frank Baiocchi (Che); and (in alphabetical order) Jill Stacey Carlen; Robert M. Cid; Rachel Cohen; Vincent D'Elia; Liz Donathan; Kim Jordan; Michael Kaer-Miller; Claudia Koziner; Colin E. Liander; Ashley Fox Linton; Ricky Oliver; Christopher Regan; Luis Salgado; Matthew Sipress; Shorey Walker; and the children) Zachary Goldstein; Elisha McGinnis; Seth Nachimson; Ariana Rudess