Refreshingly innovative direction, memorable lead performances, a sensational ensemble, fresh dance moves, and a stunning production design make Musical Theatre West’s revival of the international smash Evita by far the finest regional staging I’ve seen of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice classic.
One of Broadway’s very first almost entirely “sung-through” musicals, Evita recounts the life of Argentina’s most famous/infamous First Lady from her late teens to her untimely death at thirty-three.
The charismatic Che (Richard Bermudez) serves as our guide, escorting us back in time to a small-town night club where local heartthrob Augustín Magaldi (Zachary Ford) meets a very young, very brunette Eva (Ayme Olivo), ready to seduce Magaldi, move to Buenos Aires, and conquer the world.
Skyrocketing to fame and fortune thanks to a series of lovers, each higher positioned than the one before, Eva becomes bolder and blonder with each new paramour until army colonel Juan Perón (Davis Gaines) bids adieu to his teen Mistress (Ashley Marie), the better to forge his political future with Eva by his side.
Before he can ascend to the presidency, however, Perón must first demonstrate “The Art Of The Possible” by eliminating all competitors to the presidency, just one of Evita’s now iconic songs that also include “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” “Perón’s Latest Flame,” “A New Argentina,” and “Rainbow Tour.”
Director Larry Carpenter reimagines scenes too often played as carbon copies to Harold Prince’s 1978 West End World Premiere vision, and hallelujah for that.
Forget the revolving door through which young Eva’s lovers enter and exit her life. Forget the game of musical (rocking) chairs during which, one by one, Argentinean colonels are eliminated until only Juan Perón, future President, remains. Forget seeing Eva cross yet again high above the stage before her show-stopping “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.”
Carpenter restages each of these numbers with inspired originality, most particularly the second, which now involves having enlisted soldiers making bloody sure no opposing colonel remains alive to fight back, just one of many sequences that benefits from Jonathan Infante’s vivid video design.
Choreographer Hector Guerrero adds his own ingenious touches throughout, giving his crackerjack ensemble as much fancy footwork as you’d expect in a “dancy” show rather than one best remembered for its vocalizing leads. (In one particularly memorable sequence, Guerrero doubles the number of tango dancing couples backing Eva and Perón’s “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You.”)
As Eva, the captivating Ayme Olivo metamorphoses from ingénue (In The Heights’ Nina and West Side Story’s Maria) to diva, first convincing us as few have before her in the teenager we first meet, still a mere twenty-seven when she became First Lady, then dazzling us with spitfire pizzazz, glorious vocals, and powerful dramatics.
Bermudez won a Lead Actor Scenie two years back for what I then described as his “dynamic, sexy, sly, gorgeously sung Che” and he is even better this time round opposite Olivo’s energizing Eva, and still arguably the handsomest Che ever.
The role of Perón gives MTW favorite Gaines a chance to show off his dramatic chops after a couple of comedic bonbons, and once again Gaines’s pipes are best-in-the-biz.
Ford has great fun as a full-of-his-own-charm Magaldi and the charming Marie makes the most of her brief scene as Perón’s poor discarded Mistress, and both sing splendidly.
Finally, Evita’s absolutely sensational ensemble give its leading players more than a run for their Argentine pesos. Joseph Abrego, Emily King Brown, Carly Cannata, Joven Calloway, Abby Carlson, Megan Cherry, William Clayton, Ayesha Cortinas, Kristina Dizon, Bryan Dobson, Jillian Easton, Ashlee Espinosa, Eddie Gutierrez, Marcos Hernandez, Gabriel Kalomas, Celeste Lanuza, Chloe Leatherwood, Bill Ledesma, Luis Martinez, Louis Pardo, Steven Rada, Rile Reavis, Lisa Stone, Jeffrey Christopher Todd, and Sheri Vasquez not only sing and dance to match Broadway’s best but act a multitude of sharply-delineated parts in addition to demonstrating the age-and-type diversity that distinguishes a thoroughly professional Evita. (Special snaps to Cannata, Cortinas, Gutierrez, and Martinez for their tango artistry.)
Musical director David Lamoureux not only elicits glorious vocals but equally glorious instrumentals from his Broadway-caliber musicians.
Last but not least, MTW treats its audiences to the most strikingly designed regional Evita I’ve seen. Rented sets (provided by The Music & Theatre Company) and costumes (provided by The Theater Company, with Karen St Pierre receiving design credit) are both stunners, and even more so when lit to glorious effect by Steven Young, Infante’s videos both setting the scene and adding color throughout, and never more so than in the swirling projections that help make “And The Money Kept Rolling In” the evening’s show-stoppingest number. Audio Production Geeks LLC’s crystal-clear sound design, Natalie Jackson’s properties, and Tony Gagliardi’s wigs are once again top of the line.
Child performers Lola Alonso, Hailey Collins, Juliet Garbacz, Landon Mariano, and Isabella Medina complete the cast. Kevin Clowes is technical director. Kelly Marie Pate is stage manager and Mary Ritenhour is assistant stage manager.
Faithful enough to its origins to please purists yet imaginative enough to compel even those who might be thinking “Another Evita?”, Musical Theatre West does Eva Perón absolutely right.
Musical Theatre West, Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach.
February 11, 2017
Photos: Caught In The Moment Photography