Review of Evita at Music Theatre of Connecticut
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita pulls off an interesting feat: a rock opera about a political celebrity. What’s more, it cleverly echoes some of the signature characterization from the duo’s most famous rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, what with Che, a figure a bit like Judas and a bit like the Zealot, acting as our narrator. And, in its portrayal of the show's heroine, Argentina's First Lady Eva Perón, the opera gestures toward sainthood, in song (“Santa Evita”), and makes due mention of Eva’s body missing from its grave. Will she come again in glory?
Staged by Artistic Director Kevin Connors on the small thrust stage at MTC, Evita sports a commanding presentation—intimate, energetic, involving. So confined, there’s no way for the show to get lost in big Broadway-style glitz. The score is sharply streamlined, without guitars but an array of keyboard settings. It’s the kind of show where you can see the dancers sweat and catch their breath, but where you can also see how precise Becky Timms’ choreography is, using every bit of the multi-level stage. The big dance numbers, “A New Argentina,” and “And the Money Kept Rolling In,” are taut, and after intermission the show gets even stronger, as we follow Eva’s super-charged career, especially the Rainbow Tour of Europe.
As Eva, Katerina Papacostas brings to the role her earnest, appealing eyes, a clear voice that tends to stress the sweet and lyrical side of Eva, without overdoing the pathos, and great legs. As her husband, Juan, Donald E. Birely has a commanding presence, put to good effect in the political game of musical chairs, “The Art of the Possible,” and seems generally inscrutable like many a political figure who wants appearance to mask substance. As our commentator, Che, Daniel C. Levine owns the thing. His stage presence, as reactor and critic, keeps our focus on the fact that what we’re seeing is Eva as legendary figure. And he’s got the kind of voice that belongs in Rice/Webber, able to belt and coo and rock it, as needed.
The rest of the cast work hard in a variety of guises, notably Christopher DeRosa as a smooth tango singer and Carissa Massaro as the forlorn mistress Juan dumps to make room for Eva—the song, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” with guitar wielded onstage by Christopher Hudson Myers, is the kind of melancholy “life goes on” song that would be at home in almost any musical, an affecting bit of Rice/Webber, who have a knack for lyrical monologues—“I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You,” “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” “High Flying, Adored”—and songs that assert the perspective of the crowd or aristocrats or generals (Diane Vanderkroef’s costumes create an interesting combo of the latter two roles).
Other than entertainment—and there’s plenty of that—it’s hard to say what one gets out of the show. Papacostas portrays an Eva who grows from a sly get-ahead “chorus girl” to an icon with gravitas, but the testing that occurs during the Rainbow Tour and her brave attempt to live up to her country’s need for her makes us aware that she’s not equal in power to the influence she wields among the people. Rice and Webber seem to want to have it both ways: creating in us sympathy for Eva as a Golden Girl a bit out of her element but also striving to be better, and keeping us in sympathy with Che and his jaundiced view of how the Peróns manipulate their followers. “You Must Love Me,” Eva sings—“adore me / Dior me”—and we do, with reservations.
In the end, director Connors seems most inclined to show us the tension between the appearance and the reality and that’s as it should be, giving us an Eva as a grand stage diva, dying to impress us.
Lyrics by Tim Rice, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Kevin Connors
Costume Design: Diane Vanderkroef; Set Design: David Heuvelman; Lighting Design: Joshua Scherr; Stage Manager: Jim Schilling; Choreography: Becky Timms; Musical Direction: Thomas Martin Conroy; Photographs: Joe Landry
Cast: Donald E. Birely; Corinne C. Broadbent; Christopher DeRosa; Matt Greenberg; Tyler Keller; Daniel C. Levine; Rachel MacIsaac; Carissa Massaro; Christopher Hudson Myers; Katerina Papacostas
Children: Rica Monaghan; Raquel Paige; Madeleine Tansley (Oct. 10-18); Ariana Brodows; Jonah Frimmer; Jolie Shey (Oct. 23-25); Jonah Frimmer; Cessa Lewis; Rica Monaghan; Hannah Pressman (Oct. 30-Nov. 1)
Musicians: Thomas Martin Conroy (keyboard); Mike L’Altrella (second keyboard); Jim Andrews (bass); Chris Johnson (drums)
Music Theatre of Connecticut
October 16-November 1, 2015