Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Tim Rice (lyricist) suggested the story of Eva Peron to Andrew Lloyd Webber (music), his collaborator on the successful album and show Jesus Christ Superstar, believing the story would make a strong follow-up. Lloyd Webber turned down the idea in favor of Jeeves, a musical take on the P.G. Wodehouse character. After Jeeves bombed, Lloyd Webber and Rice began their musical based on the Eva Peron story. The result was a success, both in its initial 1976 album form and later when it was turned into a stage musical in 1978. The 1979 Broadway version became the first British musical to win a Tony for Best Musical. Evita is also home to one of Rice and Lloyd Webber's most popular songs, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," which appears in numerous forms during the show.
Musical Theatre Southwest (MTS) has done a wonderful job of bringing this musical to their black box space. In its theatre-in-the-round presentation, with varied choreography by Larry Aguilar, the production is energetic and up close to the audience. Musical director Aaron Howe does a terrific job matching actor vocals with the 11-piece live orchestra.
Art Tedesco, who has assisted many Albuquerque theatres in many ways over the years, keeps this large group of actors, musicians, and production team members in sync as the story builds and builds through Eva Peron's rise from her poor beginnings to becoming the wife of Argentina's military leader Juan Peron, to worldwide adoration, and on to her untimely death from cancer at 33. Quite a challenge for a director, and Tedesco delivers well.
The music is gorgeous. Lloyd Webber clearly knew he had a winner with the melody to "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," for it flows beautifully off and on throughout the story. Tedesco cast his actors well, with an eye toward delivering the music; since music is the heart of Evita, that was a good decision. As each actor opens up and sings, you call tell why Tedesco made the choice. This is particularly clear with Jessica Wachs as Eva. Her voice just grows and grows with power throughout the story.
B. Chris Armijo also delivers well across a number or roles. This talented fellow was unforgettable in recent MTS productions The Addams Family (as Gomez) and Rock of Ages (as Dennis Dupree).
One of my favorite performances in Evita comes from Kelvin Krupiak. He was excellent a couple years back as Danny, the male lead in Albuquerque Little Theatre's Grease. Here as Che, who is the moral conscious of the story, Krupiak is a bundle of hard-focused drive. Grease was his first musical theatre performance. As good as he was then, he's even better in Evita, truly making us believe is this insistent-but-battered-by-history character. The character is not quite based on Che Guevara, but he's also not quite not based on Che Guevara. Certainly in spirit he's Guevara.
One unexpected treat comes from Brooke Caperton as the Little Girl and ensemble member. She's fine in her acting and ensemble singing, but at one point she gets a few moments of solo singing and it's absolutely stunning to hear.
The staging is relatively simple, just enough. Moving from scene to scene seems effortless, and the costumes, sound, lighting and staging all work well to present what is effectively a pop music opera. Lovely.
Evita, directed by Art Tedesco for Musical Theatre Southwest, will show in the MTS Black Box at 6320 Domingo Rd NE through April 30, 2017. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm. General admission is $22. For seniors, students and ATC members, admission is $20. For reservations, call 505-265-9119 or purchase online at musicaltheatresw.com.