Sunday, October 25, 2015

Evita -- Music Theatre of CT

 Katerina Papacostas and Donald E. Birely. Photo: Joe Landry
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Kevin Connors
Music Theatre of Connecticut
Through Nov. 1

Starring Donald E. Birely, Corinne C. Broadbent, Christopher DeRosa, Matt Greenberg, Tyler Keller,
Daniel C. Levine, Rachel MacIsaac, Carissa Massaro,Christopher Hudson Myers and Katerina Papacostas.
What's It All About?
It's a newly re-imagined version of the Tony-Award-winning musical about the rise and fall of  Argentina's pre and post-World-War II-era First Lady Eva Peron. The large-scale musical has been repackaged to be presented by just a cast of 10 playing multiple roles. More than 25 songs include "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," Rainbow High," Rainbow Tour" and "Buenos Aires." They get Musical Direction by Thomas Martin Conroy, who leads a four-man band on stage. Some arrangements suffer by having so few instruments, but overall, they do an admirable job accompanying.

Eva Duarte (Katerina Papacostas) pulls herself up from the gutter by sleeping with men like sleazy lounge singer Agustin Magaldi (a fabulous Christopher DeRosa who is the best I ever have seen) and makes her way to Buenos Aires, where she meets rising political star and soldier Juan Peron (Donald E. Birely). She unemploys his young mistress ( a charming Carissa Massaro) and the two go on to enjoy a monarch-like reign. Eva is given almost saint-like status by the people, but not everyone is fooled. Revolutionary Che (Daniel C. Levine) sees his country being robbed blind and the rights of the people being stripped away by socialist policies.

What Are the Highlights?
Director Kevin Connors has triumphed in many ways. Producing this type of musical in the intimate space at Music Theatre of Connecticut is a challenge and he succeeds in delivering a show that is dynamic, exciting and satisfying -- especially for those of us who have been fans of Evita since it first burst onto a Broadway stage back in 1977. In some ways, he does the original one better, He focuses on the relationships, particularly between Eva and Juan and the show is much better for it.

Scenes that never really jelled for me before (and failed horribly in the recent Broadway revival) come to life in fresh interpretation. I even thought the insertion of the song "You Must Love me," which was written for Madonna in the film version, and which I hated in the revival, was brilliantly placed here and made perfect sense. It also is the strongest song for Papacostas, who sings admirably on the rest of the score, but who doesn't have the high belts for "Rainbow High.". I was touched and felt for Eva in a way I never have before.

In addition, Connors refocuses on Che as the storyteller. This aspect was lost completely in that horrible revival in which Ricky Martin wandered aimlessly around the stage and sent me home weeping for Mandy Patinkin. In this production, Levine gives a powerhouse performance (as electrifying as Mandy's in the showstopping "The Money Kept rolling In") as he takes us through Eva's life from his perspective -- high belts and all.

The acting is strong and vocals, for the most part, are solid and effectively mixed.

Costumes by Diane Vanderkroef help tell the story (and provide amusement as the ensemble doubles as soldiers on one side and aristocrats on the other.) Becky Timms tautly choreographs large numbers in the small space designed by David Heuvelman

What Are the Lowlights?
I really missed Eva's high belts, even if I did enjoy Papacostas' portrayal of Eva.
Lighting (designed by Joshua Scherr) leaves soloists in the dark and fails to highlight Che in his narrator's role.

There is some slowness in tempo and in timing in the staging of a few scenes, but if you haven't seen this show a lot and listened to it several thousand times, you probably won't notice. Overall, this production far exceeds the 2012 Broadway revival, so don't miss it.

More Information:
Evita plays through Nov. 1 at Music Theatre of CT, 509 Westport ave., Norwalk. Performances are
Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 pm and 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets are $35-$55: 203-454-3883;

MTC Students appearing:
(October 16-18 performances:) Rica Monaghan, Raquel Paie, Madeleine Tansley, (October 23-25 performances:) Ariana Brodows, Jonah Frimmer, Jolie Shey, (October 30-November 1 performances:) Jonah Frimmer, Cessa Lewis, Rica Monaghan, Hannah Pressman.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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