A Buenos Aires movie audience’s enjoyment of the latest 1952 film hit is interrupted by an announcement that Eva Perón, “the spiritual leader of the nation, has entered immortality.” There are screams and sobs, movie patrons grab each other for support.
Eva Peron may have just died … again, but her legend lives on as Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre offers its audiences a solid revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1979 Broadway smash Evita.
It takes a while for us to meet Eva Duarte (Laura Dickinson), or at least the alive-and-well Eva. First comes “Requiem For Evita,” with its bowed mourners filing rhythmically past Eva’s open coffin to pay their respects to the deceased First Lady of Argentina, wife of President Juan Perón (John LaLonde).
The charismatic figure of a character known only as Che (Richard Bermudez), a sort of one-man Greek chorus and narrator, observes this all from the outside (“Oh What A Circus”), and before long we have gone back eighteen years to a night club in Eva’s hometown of Junín, where local heartthrob Augustín Magaldi (Lucas Coleman) is serenading his female fans with “On This Night Of A Thousand Stars.”
And then, there she is, young brunette Eva, ready to seduce Magaldi, move to Buenos Aires, and conquer the world.
“Buenos Aires,” becomes the first of many Dickinson showcases revealing not only her signature vocals but some tiptop dance skills to Roger Castellano’s peppy choreography.
“Goodnight And Thank You” has Eva beginning her rise to international stardom as a series of lovers, each higher positioned than the one before, enter and exit Eva’s life—literally through a revolving door. Mid-song, Eva emerges as a blonde and stays that way from then on.
Here and throughout, director Chuck Ketter sticks close to the iconic moments that Evita fans have come to expect over the decades.
Audiences will smile in recognition at “The Art Of The Possible,” staged as a game of musical (rocking) chairs, as one by one the Argentinean colonels are eliminated until only Juan Perón, future President, is left standing (or rather sitting) and ready to assume power with a beautiful blonde by his side.
Before long, Perón has met Eva at a charity concert, and with both of them realizing that “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You,” it’s goodbye to Perón’s mistress (Alexandra Specter) and “Hello, Eva!”
Among Evita’s many familiar sequences, paid homage to by Ketter and Castellano, is “Perón’s Latest Flame,” which has goose-stepping Army officers and members of the Argentinean aristocracy in their snootiest “Ascot Gavotte” mode lamenting that “Things have reached a pretty pass when someone pretty lower-class, graceless and vulgar, uninspired, can be accepted and admired.”
There’s also Act One’s rousing, fists-in-the-air “A New Argentina” finale, followed post intermission by the now much-parodied Evita-on-the-balcony solo “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” done serious here, and Eva’s “Rainbow Tour” of Europe, one which starts with high hopes only to end with the ignominious cancellation of the final stop, England.
As for the rest, well we’ve already seen those Buenos Aires moviegoers’ reaction to the announcement of Eva’s premature death at thirty-three, so any stomach pains suffered by our heroine are likely to be more than mere indigestion from all that foreign food.
Southland stage favorite Dickinson effectively takes Eva on her journey from relatively innocent teen to power-wielding diva, dancing up a storm in “Buenos Aires” and “Waltz For Eva and Che,” and doing some powerful acting as Eva transitions from feisty spitfire to elegant first lady to terminally ill cancer victim.
A sensational Bermudez dominates not only the Candlelight stage but the entire theater with a dynamic, sexy, sly, gorgeously sung Che, proving a forceful, magnetic observer of Eva’s rise to fame and her fall from the heights.
Juan Perón is bought to life by the matinee-idol-handsome, vocally blessed LaLonde, once again proving the personification of versatility following his night-and-day different turns as Henry Higgins and Sweeney Todd.
Though basically a three-person musical with a huge supporting cast, Evita gives a few of its featured characters their standout moments.
Coleman makes for a scene-stealing Magaldi, his “On This Night Of A Thousand Stars” as delicioso as it is swoonworthily crooned, and Specter’s Mistress gives us a poignant, beautifully sung “Another Suitcase In Another Hall.”
Though they do not receive program credit for their seductive tango, John Paul Batista and dance captain Emily Dauwelder deserve mention for heating up the Candlelight stage with their dance sizzle.
Ensemble members Batista, Candice Rochelle Berge, Fernando Christopher, Samantha Claire, dance captain Dauwelder, Quentin Garzon, Christopher Gomez, Jennifer Harmon, Stephanie Inglese, Jason Marquez, Karina Marquez, Aleesha McNeff, Stanton Kane Morales, Robert Murray, Jimmy Oronoz, and Lance Smith do stellar work in multiple tracks each, both vocally (performing to prerecorded tracks under the musical direction of Jo Monteleone) and choreographically in one exciting Castellano number after another.
Marquez tots Cecilia and Jonah make a delightful Act Two appearance opposite their talented parents Jason and Karina.
FCLO Music Theatre’s raked-stage set, for which Greg Hinrichsen receives design credit, provides a professional-looking backdrop to Evita’s rise-and-fall, and is gorgeously lit as always by Steve Giltner, with lighting design provided by StreetLite LLC. Costumes provided by The Theatre Company and FCLO Music Theatre and coordinated by Karen Fix Curry and Merrill Grady give us everything from Eva’s gowns, to colorful soldiers’ uniforms, to the elegant black hues of the aristocracy’s garb, and Mary Warde’s wigs are topnotch as well. Colleen Bresnahan is scenic artist. Sound design is uncredited, but excellent.
Daniel Moorefield is stage manager and Orlando Montes technical director. Executive chef Juan Alvarado and sous chef Maria Sandoval serve up Candlelight’s invariably yummy cuisine. Kudos as always to Candlelight Pavilion owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, and especially to artistic director LaLonde.
Locally produced big-stage Evita revivals have been few and far between over the past decade, just one reason why Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre’s latest is sure to spark audience interest. Add to this Candlelight’s scrumptious appetizers, entrees, and deserts and you’ve got an evening of dinner and a show (or matinee equivalent) certain to highlight your weekend’s entertainment.
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
May 17, 2015
Photos: Adam Trent