Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Another Evita At Broadway By The Bay
Once again I heard the chorus roar "Evita, Evita, Evita" at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center as Broadway by the Bay, also known as the Peninsula Civic Light Opera, is presenting the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical Evita. This marks my sixth view of this "warhorse" since I first saw it at Prince of Wales Theatre in London with Elaine Paige playing the lead. This was followed by Patti LuPone playing the Argentinean first lady in the pre-Broadway opening here in San Francisco. My third experience was with Loni Ackerman taking over the role at the Shubert Theatre in Los Angeles. In 1999 the national tour company came to San Francisco with Ana Maria Andricain playing the role. That revival had a certain Latin beat that was missing in the original. The American Musical Theatre presented an excellent version with Ms. Andricain repeating her portrayal the first of this year (review in the achives).
This version of the Webber/Rice musical has a Latin flavor with some great highs and a few lows. The outstanding parts of this Evita are Berle Davis's superb choreography for 25 beautifully trained dancers, the chorus work of a cast of 53, and the three leads: Annmarie Martin as Evita, Noel Anthony Escobar as Che and Joshua Powell as Juan Peron. All three give strong performances.
Anamarie Martin as Evita has a little trouble with some of her notes at the beginning of the musical but once she gets to "Buenos Aires" her voice is right on the mark. Her "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" at the start of the second act is superb. Her acting role as Evita, who starts to decline in popularity and health, is exceptional in this act.
Noel Anthony Escobar gives an exhilarating performance as Che. He has a dynamic voice for the role. Joshua Powell is the youngest Juan Peron that I have seen, but his performance as the middle age President of Argentina is impressive. Powell offers a particularly soft and heartfelt solo in the song "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You." David Mialovich as nightclub tango performer Magaldi is good, but he seems to have difficulty reaching notes in his big number "On This Night of a Thousand Stars." Also, he tries to be a little too much like Elvis. Erin Ashland as Peron's mistress gives a nice reading of her only song, "Another Suitcase in Another Hall." She looks like a little waif up there on the stage.
Berle Davis's choreography is stunning, especially the big Buenos Aires number in the first act. It contains a sensational Latin beat and the huge chorus is exciting in this number. The "Peron's Latest Flame" number with jerky military and posh high society is perfect. Alex Hsu and Jennifer Royse are smooth as the Tango dancers.
The chorus, under the direction of Brandon Adams, is inspired with 50 voices singing the final song of the first act, "A New Argentina." Adams also leads the orchestra of 25 solid musicians.
Sometimes Brooke Knight's direction is uneven with some of the scenes just not coming off. The main problem is that the highs are so great, it is difficult for what follows to merit attention. The set is the same one used at the American Musical Theatre in January. There is a continuous bridge on the upper part of the stage where Ms. Martin sings her famous song. The stage is mostly dark and there are rolled-in pieces for some scenes. The end of the first act has banners coming down from the ceiling. This is an effective piece of theater work. The company also uses projections and film to highlight Evita's life. However, it is very interesting that, at the beginning of the musical, the characters are watching an "Argentinean" movie in Buenos Aires with English subtitles underneath.
Evita played thru October 6 at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 North Delaware, San Mateo. For tickets call 650-579-5568 or visit www.broadwaybythebay.org. Broadway by the Bay also announced their three musicals for the 2003 season. They are Singing in the Rain, The Sound of Music and West Side Story.