EVITA at Music Theatre of Connecticut

By Tom Nissley

MTC Mainstage has opened its new season with a lovely production of Rice and Webber’s “EVITA,” beautifully directed by Kevin Connors. There is a terrific cast and the set (David Heuvelman) is handsomely appropriate to the intimate theatre, the lighting (Joshua Scherr) is beautifully targeted, the costumes (Diane Vanderkroef) are great, and the choreography (Becky Timms) is absolutely eloquent. Thomas Martin Conroy’s musical direction completes the roster of who makes the production work so nicely.

“Evita” is a composite portrait of the rise of Maria Eva Duarte from poverty in the little community of Los Toldos to a brief film career in Buenos Aires, and a quick jump into the arms of Colonel Juan Peron, who became the president of Argentina in 1946, making her the first lady. She was adored by the workers and established a certain amount of charity for the poor. She also promoted women’s liberation and was a glamorous international figure. She died as a victim of cancer in 1952.

In the musical, the narration describing her life, often cynically, is provided by Che, a character alluding to but not historically connected to Che Guevara. Daniel C. Levine sings the role magnificently, sometimes crouched like a panther ready to spring, and with generous physical movements that allow him to surround the action on the stage while he describes it.

But there is a lot more of the eloquent singing which marks this production. Christopher Derosa, in the role of Magrudi -- young Eva’s first target for romance, and then help to get to Buenos Aires – sings what can only be described as an aria, “On this night of a thousand stars,” with the sexual energy of a young stallion. His voice is glorious and his breath control is stupendous, so he’s able to hold a high note for a long time (while bending backwards!) and then drop a staccato phrase to conclude it. Magrudi is meant to be a supporting actor, but in Derosa’s body he jumps beyond that category and is a real lynchpin of the action.

Katerina Papacostas’ Eva is also stunning. Her movements, her style, her voice, and the careful timing of her singing all contribute to the focus she is meant to have in the story. After she has convinced Magrudi to take her along to Buenos Aires, she ditches him and pretty much sleeps her way up the social ladder of new friends (“Good night and thank you.”) until she is being escorted by an army officer. At a charity concert, where Magrudi sings again, she meets Juan Peron (a very convincing Donald E. Birely), who asks if she is alone. She is not, but quickly says she is, and then convinces him that “I’d be surprisingly good for you.” Very quickly they become a couple, and Eva dismisses his live-in mistress firmly with the song, “Hello and Goodbye.”

The mistress (Carissa Massaro) is another supporting actor in a linchpin role. Her plaintive ballad, “Another suitcase in another hall,” is another highlight of the show, musically, and Massaro delivers it superbly, with touching emotion.

Eva, meanwhile, though she is snubbed and whispered about by Generals and Society dames, becomes Peron’s partner and political lieutenant, and they campaign for “A New Argentina.” When Peron is elected president, Eva is introduced as his first lady, and Papacostas, stunning in a white gown, sings the song we’ve been waiting for, “Don’t cry for me Argentina.” It is beautifully done, and her timing, as I’ve already noted, is precise and haunting.

The rest of the story is devoted to Evita’s international tour as first lady – loved in Spain, less so in France, and, she thought, insulted by England. On her return she established a foundation to benefit the poor and wished to become the vice president of the country, but it was becoming clear that her health would not support the challenges involved, and she withdrew. After a last radio broadcast, a reprise of her stated love for the People, Evita died, and the Requiem which opened the musical came full circle to enclose her life.

I have seen “Evita” on the big stage and I can easily tell you that I enjoyed it and understood it more completely in this intimate production at MTC. Get tickets if you can and enjoy the final performances. MTC can be reached at 203-454-3883 or www.musictheatreofct.com

Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre

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