Sunday, July 31, 2016
Opening night. Evita. Except for a handful of seats, a packed Lebanon Opera House. An audience dressed in best and eclectic Upper Valley style: some shorts here, a tux there, glamorous shawls, Teva sandals. Evita groupies, Evita virgins, and people like me seeing the musical for the second or third time.
Here are the standouts and reasons to buy a ticket:
1. Evita sings. You already know the iconic Don't Cry for Me, Argentina. That's a mere bonus. Jenny Ashman sings with power and finesse throughout the entire performance. Among her best scenes are her duets with Juan Peron (Mark Womack--also gifted with a great voice), and with Che.
2. Che acts. Brandon Rubendall supplies the counter-narrative to the official Evita storyline. Che has always been my favorite character in the play, full of cynicism, speaking his truth in every scene. He is relentlessly pesky that way. Watch him, in the beginning requiem, blaspheme away the grief that surrounds Evita's death with Oh, What A Circus, drumming his hands in sacrilege on her coffin. Rubendall's face alone registers dozens of different shades of doubt and bemusement.
3. Dancers--oh my! . Sex sizzles in the tangos and pasos dobles; other numbers are energetic. Feet get thrust in the air higher than heads. Argentina's upper crust shuffles carefully and only horizontally, always in a pack, their faces and everything else appropriately clenched. Watch the soldiers--twice--muscular arms and legs sending out a visceral percussion from the stage.
The cast of Evita
Everything works in this fast-paced production, including the live orchestra under the direction of Louis Burkot, and except for the play's closing lines, which have always seemed awkward. The set is inventive and together with John Bartenstein's lighting serves every scene. Kudos to Jill Tarr, costume designer who chose Evita's regal necklace and gown for her presentation on the balcony of the Casa Rosada. There is a brief, charming scene with a small children's chorus--Upper Valley kids on stage.
Evita originated in London's West End, has been on Broadway more than once, and was turned into a movie starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas. Below is a fun chart showing which actors played the principal roles in each production. There are surprises. The original Che--always thought to be evocative of Che Guevara, and one would think Argentinian at the very least--was portrayed by Colm Wilkinson, a slight not at all dark Irish-born tenor (who would, and maybe has if you've seen him, wow you in his role of Jean Valjean in Les Mis).
There is some controversy about the story. Some critics argue that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice based this work on earlier, meaner biographies of Eva Peron, and that she was in fact purer of heart than portrayed. I like the ambiguity and the questions it raises. Do we castigate Evita for "sleeping her way to the top," or applaud her ambition for finding footing in the only way possible for women of that era? Does The Money Keep Rolling In (And Out) and did it find its way into Peron's Swiss bank account or into the coffers of charities that helped the poor descamisados (the shirtless ones). Or a little of both?
In this electoral season with a woman presidential candidate and the other I won't mention by name, one might search out parallels in this highly political play. For myself, I was so weary from watching both conventions that my political gears were too stripped to do that. And you don't have to. You can go to hear the singers sing, the actors act, and those divine dancers dance.
Performance dates and times for Evita are August 2, 4, 6, 11 and 13 at 7:30 p.m., and August 10 at 2 p.m. To get tickets or for more information about this and Daughter of the Regiment and Tosca, go to Opera North's website.
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