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Highly Recommended 'Evita'

Highly Recommended ★★★★★

There was a great deal of conversation, prior to tonight’s opening of “Evita” at Marriott Theatre, relative to the lack of Hispanics used in the production. As someone who is very involved with this community ( Spanish yellow pages and newspapers along with a magazine are my forte), I am quite aware of what makes a Latino a Latino ( or Latina). It is not where they were born or raised and certainly not the color of their skin. It is their heart and soul, and in this production of “Evita”, each and every member of the ensemble has the heart and soul of the pure and true Latino, thus, Marriott brings to the stage the story of this woman with all the zest and excitement that was put on paper when it was written.

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, this rock opera tells the story of Argentina’s First Lady, Eva Peron. The story begins with her death, and since this is an in-the-round theater, instead of our setting in a movie theater with the movie being interrupted, we have a family listening to the radio. When the announcement is made, our ensemble members become the people of Argentina, those who loved and worshipped her until her untimely death at age thirty-three. When Che (powerfully brought to life by newcomer Austin Lesch) begins to narrate the story of her life and how she rose from a young tart, filled with desires and ambition, to become first a starlet, then the President’s mistress, and later his wife. Her ambitions were even greater but due to her ill health, she never was able to realize her dream of becoming the Vice-President and who knows where from there.

Eva was played by Hannah Corneau tonight ( Samantha Pauly will play this role on Wednesday evenings, Thursday matinees and Sunday evenings). If one has not seen this play before, let me tell you that the music is well written, but as a rock musical, there are times where it might appear that the singers are screaming- they are not. In fact, Ms Corneau truly impressed me with her range and her ability to sing and dance at the same time while retaining her Latina soul. Her chemistry with the men in her life, starting of course with the Tango Singer, Magaldi (David Schlumpf) to Juan Peron (could there be a better Peron than Chicago favorite Larry Adams- what a vocal range he shows), the President of Argentina.

In this biography, we see that the aristocrats feared this upstart slut, never trusting her, but the people loved her and what she offered the poor and working class. While her promises were never as they might have been or the people had hoped for, her legacy is one that still lives on for many. In this piece, Webber and Rice shine a vibrant light on this amazing icon of the people of Argentina. Here we watch a dirt-poor peasant rise to the top in a short period, showing that if one wants something it can be attained. Being a “Rock Opera” the story is told in music, so each and every song is written to propel the story-telling. The songs that most people recall are “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” which brilliantly opens the second act. “You Must Love Me” is the added song that was written for the movie version, but under the smooth direction of Alex Sanchez (paying attention- Sanchez is the director/choreographer, so those of you who were saying where are the Latinos, They are here!)the song blends in with style and grace.

In fact, this entire production is stunning and proves that a good director can utilize a smaller stage with very little scenery (Thomas M. Ryan has created sets pieces that do work). The lighting (Jesse Klug) is magical, the sound (Robert E. Gilmartin) perfect and the costumes (Nancy Missimi has done it again) divine. Once again, Sally Weiss handles the props , Patty Garwood serves as Musical Supervisor and conductor and Ryan T. Nelson handled the music direction. I have seen countless productions of “Evita” and probably know half of the lyrics by heart, but found this to be a sensational production that should be recognized by The Jeff Awards for this season.

As I always write, an Ensemble is what makes a musical truly work and this particular ensemble is as strong as one can get (without having a great many Latinos, of course):William Carlos Angulo, Lauren Blane, Brian Bohr, Brianna Borger, Jameson Cooper, Bobby Daye, Alana Grossman, Anne Gunn, George Keating, Lauren Kias, Josh Kohane, Kristina Larson-Hauk, Russell Mernagh, Christine Mild, Eliza Palasz, Sayiga Eugene Peabody, James Rank, Todd Rhoades, Emily Rohm, Laura Savage and Joan Slattery. On the dates where Samantha Pauly is not playing Eva, she is also in the ensemble. This troupe changes costumes, wigs and characters in a flash, never missing a beat or a note- BRAVO! Sanchez, with his cast and interpretations has hit the nail on the head!