By Karen Isaacs
Taking an iconic musical that usually features a large cast and presenting it in a small, intimate space can be problematic. Does the smaller cast and smaller pit band show up the flaws in the show or does it add something new to the theater-going experience?
Evita, now at MTC in Norwalk through Nov. 1, is in the latter category. While this is not a perfect production, it is an enjoyable evening of theater.
This Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice sung-through musicals tells of the rise Eva Duarte who – with skills that Madame du Pompadour and Machiavelli would admire – goes from a lower class teenager in a backwater part of Argentina to its first lady and a major international celebrity of the 1950s. She was a major factor in her husband’s (General Juan Perón) rise to power with his autocratic, corrupt and some would say Fascist dictatorship. Her death of cancer at an early stage sent Argentina in a paroxysm of grief and adulation. The musical is narrated by “Che” who was meant to refer to the famous 1960s revolutionary, Che Guevara who was killed in 1967 and though often associated with Castro was, in fact, Argentinian.
Let’s start with the plusses: the cast is, the on the whole, excellent. Katerina Papacostas plays Evita and shows us her desperation to succeed and to do anything necessary. This is a determined woman. That we never feel any warmth is due to the fact that as the character was written, there is a little time for warmth. Papacostas handles the high tessitura of the part easily and the fact that she understudied the role (and played it) on the national tour undoubtedly helped.
Daniel C. Levine brings good looks and a terrific voice to the role of Che. I might have wished for a slightly more cynical and angry Che – after all, Evita was all that Guevara hated. She spoke of helping the poor but in reality helped herself to more; her husband’s regime was corrupt, violent and totally undemocratic. There are flashes of cynicism and anger, but I would have liked it more consistently.
As Juan Perón, Donald E. Birely is one of the weaker member of the cast. Unfortunately he does not look like powerful military man (though in the show, Perón is given to more doubts about his destiny that Eva has), and his voice tends to get lost.
The other members of the cast play multiple roles – from the crowd scenes to other military officers, etc. Christopher DeRosa does an excellent job as Magaldi – the tango singer who was Eva’s first conquest and who was “persuaded” to bring her to Buenos Aires, where she launched her upward mobility. Carissa Massaro brings a poignancy to the role of Perón’s discarded mistress. Both DeRosa and Massaro score with their solos – “On This Night of a Thousand Stars” and “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”
The others – Corinne C. Broadbent, Matt Greenberg, Tyler Keller, Rachel MacIsaac and Christopher Hudson Myers – all perform well their multiple roles—generals, the Argentinian high society, Eva’s family, friends, and adorers.
Director Kevin Connors has done an excellent job in making this show intimate yet using the small cast effectively so it never feels sparse. He is aided by the excellent costumes by Diane Vanderkroef.
Choreographer Becky Timms has incorporated a great deal of dance and movement into this piece which can sometimes seem static. This movement helps set the mood and also make the small cast seem larger.
The lighting by Joshua Scherr is problematic. I never quite figured out if the moments when leading characters played scenes in the semi-darkness was intentional or not. At times it worked to make it more intimate, but at other times, it just seemed as though the actors were not in the right place on the stage.
The four piece pit band, led by Thomas Martin Conroy handled the score well but a few more instruments would have been appreciated.
MTC’s new theater which opened last fall is still presenting some challenges. When actors enter from either side of the stage front, audience members get a glimpse of light from the lobby or, from where I sitting, a lighted corridor hung with photos of cast members. It attracts the eye and breaks concentration.
Since projection are used in the show; I had a small beam of light distracting me during the performance. Some fellow audience members were using their programs to block it.
But these quibbles about an otherwise very good production.
Evita is at MTC, 509 Westport Ave., Norwalk. For tickets call 203-454-3883 or musictheatreofct.com.