Critic's Review :
'Evita' at Richter is excellent
By Chesley Plemmons
NEWS-TIMES THEATER CRITIC
Musicals at Richter, Danbury's outdoor summer theater, is on a decided roll. The company has followed a thoroughly engaging production of "Godspell" with a top notch "Evita" no mean feat.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's provocative look at the rise and fall of Argentina's legendary first lady Eva Peron is a complex musical with vocal and staging demands not to be undertaken lightly. It hasn't a prayer without performers of the highest rank in the roles of Evita and of Che Guevara, who serves as a mocking commentator to the drama.
No only do Sarah Michaels and John Congdon invest those parts with the demanding talent required, they virtually electrify the stage. Danbury hasn't seen performances this strong since an occasional standout turn at the gone and lamented Gateway Playhouse.
Director George Vollano has assembled a supporting cast that is exemplary as well David Roth as Peron, Greg Hatzis as Magaldi, and Alyssa Northrup as the girl Evita throws out of Peron's bedroom.
"Evita," which walked off with the major Tony Awards for musicals in 1980, is too dark a story to be considered musical comedy and is not really a show for the whole family.
Tracing the rise of the aggressively ambitious Eva Duarte from rural Argentina to the palace in Buenos Aires is a trip through bedrooms and backrooms where this "ordinary" woman traded her body for favors and introductions one of them to Juan Peron, a general who was in the right place at the right time for a coup.
It's not a pretty picture, though Evita managed to keep herself looking glamorous and goddesslike, especially to the lower classes, who saw her as a saint. The musical ends in 1952, when Eva died at the age of 33.
It was a brilliant stroke to use the character of Che, himself a to tell the story of Evita's career. For most of the show he plays outside the action, singing about what is happening, but there are sequences where he seems to be at Evita's side. Dressed in military fatigues, Congdon is the impassioned pivot point for the drama.
Michaels not only sings beautifully she turns "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" into a powerful piece of theater she handles the transformation of Eva from the drab girl of the sticks to the glittering Evita with finesse.
Director Vollano has received terrific support from his production team, including producer Joyce Northrop and assistant director Elyse Jasensky, in staging this large musical. There are 60 in the cast, including a children's choir of 20 talented Once again I have only high praise for the musical accompaniment that Carl Anderson delivers with help from Roger Post, John Propper and Kevin Smith, a small but potent orchestra. The sound is rich and completely free of those painful electronic glitches of years past.
The costumes, which range from rural dowdy to high-society elegant with a dose of military thrown in, are by Yvette Beausoleil. The choreography by Joann Bourgeois is limited but effective, the funny high-stepping by a team of top-ranking officers.
The sets by Andrew Knapp effectively evolve with the story, and he and Kathy Anderson have painted some huge propaganda-style murals to frame the action.
Webber's score is an eclectic blend of Latin melodies, stirring political anthems, and songs with an intricate musical structure he never repeated again. Listen carefully to "High Flying Adored," "Buenos Aires" and "Oh, What a Circus" for song styling unique in musical Rice's lyrics are equally complex, and that poses a problem occasionally for Michaels. When Evita is singing with the full chorus, the words are hard to understand, especially to those not familiar with the show. Perhaps she should be separated from the other singers so her voice could be the one we listen to for the lyrics.
Although she's only in the spotlight for one number, Alyssa Northrop wrings genuine emotion from "Another Suitcase, Another Hall." It's a small but rewarding contribution to the overall success of this professional "Evita."
"Evita" continues through July 22 at Musicals at Richter, in Richter Park, 100 Aunt Hack Road, Danbury. Performances are Fridays through Sundays at 8:30 p.m.; the grounds open at 7:15 for picnicking. Tickets are $15, seniors $12, children $10. Chairs can be rented by reservation. Call the box office at (203) 748-6873.
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