“Evita,” Ivoryton Playhouse, Ivoryton
through Aug. 31
        --Irene Backalenick
 
“Evita!” “Evita!” “Evita!” So the chorus chants all the way through “Evita,” now in revival at the Ivoryton Playhouse. As well they might, for “Evita” continues to be charged with political relevance, human frailty, and powerful music/lyrics. One of the earliest and best efforts of the Andrew Lloyd-Webber/Tim Rice team, “Evita” holds up well over the years.

How well this blockbuster musical works at the Ivoryton Playhouse, with its small stage and limited cast, is another matter. As it turns out, this particular revival never quite captures the full explosive power of the show. Yet Leslie Unger, who directed and choreographed the piece, shows considerable creativity in dealing with the problems. Many a scene is highly dramatic, with the small ensemble’s work enhancing the tale. Unger is also ably backed by the design work of Michael Meister (sets) and Doug Harry (lighting).

The rise and fall of Eva Duarte is indeed a story worth telling. Born an illegitimate child in humble surroundings, she rose to become the most powerful woman in Latin America. “Evita” traces the arc from brash teen-ager to prostitute to radio celebrity to first lady to cancer victim to sainthood. Raw ambition underlies every stage.

Although viewed here in the States as half of a dictatorship team, Eva was revered by millions in her own country. Worshipped by the poor, with whom she claimed identity, she would in fact build homes, hospitals, schools for the “descamisados” (the shirtless ones). At the same time, the Perons skimmed vast fortunes off the top. And once in power, they ruled with an iron hand, ruthlessly choking out all opposition. Newspapers were closed and protesters quickly disappeared.

It was a story which inspired the Rice/Lloyd Webber team, and their songs—topped by “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina”—are among their best. But what gives “Evita” its modern tone, saving it from obsolescence, is their creation of the fictional/historic character Che Guevara. His ironic commentary, running through the piece, serves as brilliant counterpoint to Eva’s bio. An Argentine and a revolutionary in real life who may never have known Eva Peron, he becomes a key character in “Evita.”

In this production, Robert Felbinger is a strong Guevara, who gets it just right. The quality of his voice is right for the musical moments, and he is perfectly in character as well. Voice, movement, characterization are all on target. Guevara, unlike the crowds around him, is never for a moment duped by Eva.

As to others, both Al Bundonis (Peron) and Alfonso Chavez (Magaldi, Eva’s first lover) are in fine voice. In the title role, Christine Marie Heath has her shining moment when she stands on the balcony, looking every inch the patrician leader, and greets the populace. But her singing voice tends to be harsh, resorting to screams when it calls for volume. She is difficult to understand, in dialogue and song, as are other women in the cast. The male performers project far more clearly and effectively.

What more is there to say? The truth is we never left you, “Evita.” But this particular production sends us hustling back to our CDs and recordings.
 
(this review appeared in the Connecticut Post and on the web site nycttheaterscene.com)

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