Vocally Victorious 'Evita' Rouses at Marriott
Before the Marilyns and Jackie-Os of the political beauties and scandals scene, there was Eva Perón, neé Duarte. The beloved, bejeweled First Lady of Argentina’s saga begins with her deserting an impoverished upbringing to achieve stardom in grand Buenos Aires, eventually becoming a noted Argentinian actress and radio personality. “Entertaining” gentlemen company with a Mae West-esque bravado, she wields her feminine guiles to scale the influential social ladder into the arms of formidable Juan Perón, eventually marrying him and aiding in his ascent to President. Although the hateful military figures claim she is “an ornament at most,” Eva uses her camaraderie with the working class descamisados to play a pivotal role in Perón’s rise to power, all the while spitting in the face of the aghast bourgeoisie. Serving up the ultimate razzle-dazzle to the Argentine people, they fall in love with their Saint Eva. Well, all fall in love except Che Guevara, our omniscient narrator who serves as the bitter representation of those who perceive Eva as a self-serving, manipulative fascist, not the Robin Hood-ian protagonist her people have come to idolize. But which Eva is true? That is the question with which you have to wrestle during this fast-paced rock opera.
After our Evita takes her final bows, the overall feeling as you shuffle out of the aisle is, “Lovely voices, airy interpretation.” This bare-bones, in-the-round set leans on costume, lighting, and dance to build the world in which Evita lives, and is artful in its minimalistic take. With next to nothing to hide behind, talent is on full display. And while it feels wrong that this story wouldn’t include a more diverse cast, the talent is definitely there. Austin Lesch, although lacking in the earnest anguish needed to pull off disenchanted Che, crushes it vocally as a brassy tenor. David Schlumpf has a few shiny moments as Magaldi, nicely portraying operatic lounge singer gusto to our delight. Larry Adams, the quintessential Juan Perón, brings the authoritative, worrisome man to life but doesn’t manage to escape the common “Mr. Evita” complex that often falls on the character of President Juan. The chemistry between Eva and Juan isn’t quite yet palpable, but is aided in the choice to highlight the couple rather than the ensemble during the Act One tango number.
Hannah Corneau rises to this challenging role of Eva Perón with grace and complexity, effectively creating the transition from scrappy, precocious harlot to powerful, adored political Glamazon. A bright and smooth soprano, Corneau commands on the rainbow-high notes, albeit slightly lacking the depth in the lower range, while accessing her quick, angelic vibrato sparsely and with intent. No throwaway notes or gestures can be found from her thoughtful performance. One particularly touching moment happens towards the end of Act Two in the duet between Eva and the classical guitar (bravo, Dave Saenger), weaving gingerly around one another in a hauntingly beautiful melody.
The score, a taxing opus to say the least, ebbs and flows with the story — at any moment moving from awe-striking, alluring and sultry to gritty, churning, and unsettling. I just have to admit that Sir Lloyd Webber has an uncanny (and habitual) way of producing the most heart-striking, timeless ballads (Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina is as lovely as you hope it to be in this Lincolnshire rendition) while, in my perhaps unpopular opinion, sprinkling in a few shrill and displeasing numbers. (Good Night and Thank You is to EVITA as Hosanna is to JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR). But enough about my personal views on Webber’s annoying dissonant proclivities. With EVITA, Tim Rice and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber manage to avoid writing a typical love story and take the more difficult and impacftul road of writing a three-part epic. One, yes, a love story between Eva and Perón, but two, a more enveloping love story between Eva and Argentina. The tertiary tale concerns itself with the realities, or lack thereof, of our political leaders, what motivates them, and what happens behind the balconies and speeches in which we, the people, see them.
Even though EVITA emerged 40 years ago, how relevant it remains to the politically tumultuous present-day– a wise choice for The Marriott Theatre’s 2016 season. Director and choreographer Alex Sanchez hits the mark with this EVITA, and you will be contented with the highly choreographed and vocally victorious result.