Corrections or additions?
This review by Jack Florek was prepared for — but not printed in
May 9, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
At Bristol Riverside: `Evita’
Oh what a circus! Oh what a show!" croons Che,
the cigar chomping revolutionary who serves as the antagonistic story
teller in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s "Evita."
Of course, Che is sarcastically referring to the Argentine people’s
excesses of emotion on learning of the death of Eva Peron, but his
words nicely describe Bristol Riverside Theater’s lavish new
With a stage populated with over 30 capable singers and dancers,
by a live (but small) orchestra, and first rate production values,
rarely has such a high voltage musical crowned the stage of a local
regional theater. "Evita" will be playing through May 27,
having already been extended a week due to high ticket demand.
As most people know, "Evita" begins and ends with the death
of Eva Peron (Bethe B. Austin), the popular mistress and wife of
dictator Juan Peron. But in between are enough catchy tunes and
pageantry to raise the dead, or at least the comatose.
In a production so dominated by music and spectacle, the storyline,
almost by necessity, becomes of secondary importance. Evita’s
rags to riches story, such as it is, begins with a poor Eva Duarte,
still a teenager, and looking to make it big as a radio and film
She attaches herself to a popular Tango singer named Augustin Migaldi
(Carl Wallnau) who brings her to the big city of Buenos Aires and
gives her her first big break. Eva seizes the opportunity and we see
her rise to fame and fortune as richer and richer men, all flush-faced
and disheveled, continually emerge from her boudoir.
Soon Eva encounters Juan Peron (James Van Treuren), a rising star
in his own right within Argentina’s military government. She makes
a play for him, succeeds, and is next seen booting Peron’s mistress
(Elisa Sagardia) from his bed. Success continues for the couple, and
Eva encourages Juan to take control of the country because he has
the workers on his side. Eva appears before the throng, sings
Cry For Me Argentina" to the masses and becomes their beloved
icon. But disease strikes early and despite
having lived a life garnering love and blessings, Evita dies young.
Throughout the show, Che (Brad Little) the revolutionary storyteller
dressed in green army fatigues, pops up from time to time to help
fill in the details of Evita’s story. His penchant for mixing in a
good dose of skeptical chiding acts as a sane antidote to Evita’s
relentlessly fairy tale-like story.
Bethe B. Austin is nicely cast as Eva Peron. It’s a demanding role,
but her singing voice is extremely versatile and up to the task. With
no apparent effort, she is able to belt out a raging cry for justice,
fists aimed at the sky, and then quickly downshift into a mournful
tune that is as delicate as fine silk. All this without so much as
a furtive clearing of the throat.
But Austin is also a fine actress. With the entire production swirling
around her, she is able to meet the difficult challenge of portraying
an extremely charismatic woman and not come out looking second best.
(An actor’s common nightmare is to appear unworthy of the character
she or he is playing.)
But Austin does much more. Her performance is shaded with a complex
nuance that seamlessly depicts how Evita’s full-blown arrogant
ambitions are buttressed against a surprisingly human vulnerability.
Austin allows us to see Evita as the people of Argentina see her, and
we immediately understand why Evita is so well loved.
Brad Little is her perfect counterpoint as Che, the show’s narrator.
With his jocular skepticism aimed at Evita’s excesses, he is the voice
of somewhat bitter reason. Remarkably, amidst all the hoopla of
dancing and banners, he never becomes a party-pooper. Little is also
an excellent singer and his rich tones of sturdy assurance adds to his
James Van Treuren as Juan Peron is admirable as Eva’s second fiddle.
His character is an odd one in that despite being the president of the
country, he is reduced to the backseat of the play. He possesses the
proper restraint, staying well between the lines of what is expected
of him, yet always maintaining a quiet dignity. His understated
certainly adds to the success of the show.
Carl Wallnau and Elisa Sagardia are also strong in their brief roles.
Wallnau heartily adds a welcomed comic touch with his mussy and inept
Tango singer. Sagardia as Juan Peron’s ousted lover has an elegant
voice, faintly erotic, that is reminiscent of a young Kate Bush.
Edward Keith Baker’s direction is appropriate and workmanlike. He
has a talent for continually reinvigorating the audience’s eye, never
letting it keep its gaze in one spot for too long. He does this by
keeping his characters constantly on the move, putting every nook
and cranny of the performance space to good use, and sometimes letting
characters pop up in unexpected places.
Baker is a skillful craftsman and knows how to wring emotional moments
out of each and every scene. When a scene calls for bombastic pomp
(a necessary touch in a play about politicians) or a refreshing grace
that is meant to reveal the inner lives of the characters, Baker
He proves the old theater maxim that a good director is an audience’s
Characters’ stage movements as well as their comings and goings are
also nicely facilitated by Nels Anderson’s carefully arranged set
design. Characters move about the stage as naturally as flowing water.
Although the set is multi-level, it is still simple and elegant
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice premiered "Evita" in the
United States in 1979. Since then it has played Broadway, toured the
world, and been made into a massive motion picture starring Madonna.
But rarely, it seems, has a production been so carefully and lovingly
nurtured as this one is at Bristol Riverside Theater. (It’s not all
grand — the orchestra in particular seems to clunk and rattle from
time to time.)
But this production has an elegance that is enchanting and lingers
in the imagination long after leaving the theater. When people try
to explain just why theater is so much more exhilarating than movies
or television, this is the kind of show they’re talking about.
— Jack Florek
Street, Bristol, 215-785-0100. The Eva Peron musical with lyrics by
Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, featuring Bethe Austin as Eva.
$32 to $39. Performances continue to Sunday, May 27.
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