Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Rachel Zampelli is a solid performer, but she may be out of her depth as Eva Perón, a woman who used surface charm to hide a steel spine, allowing her to climb from poverty in a small Argentine town to become the most powerful woman in the country's history. Zampelli too often comes across as simply sweet, showing little evidence of the manipulative nature Eva must have to navigate the political and social currents of Buenos Aires. Her vocal quality is ingenuous rather than dark and impassioned, and she strains to hold Andrew Lloyd Webber's high belting notes (a challenge to anyone who plays the role).
Che (Robert Ariza) capably serves as the narrator and Eva's antagonist, and Nick Duckart is a rather stolid Juan Perón, but Davis and d'Amboise seem more interested in telling the story through the stylized movement of the small but talented chorus. The chorus members enter through the theater aisles while singing the "Requiem for Evita," they hold sharply delineated poses (often with arms raised in ballet attitudes) or move in a unison drill formation, and at one point four of them display Eva from all angles by rotating the rug on which she stands.
Arnulfo Maldonado has created a deceptively simple set, well lit by Colin K. Bills: on first glance, the audience sees an elegant room with a parquet floor, several doors in the rear wall, and room for the seven musicians (including music director Christopher Youstra) at one end; the underpinnings become visible when the doors open, revealing the (metaphorical as well as actual) artifice of the setting. Rather than presenting Eva as a clotheshorse, costume designer Ivania Stack worked with Davis and d'Amboise to create only a few iconic looks demonstrating the woman's public image at specific points in her life.
This production has made a few tweaks in the score by Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, replacing "The Art of the Possible" (the "musical chairs" number showing how Juan Perón defeated his rivals) with "The Lady's Got Potential" (written for the original concept album and used in the 1996 film version), Che's summation of Argentine history in the style of Elvis Presley, and adding the Oscar-winning "You Must Love Me," written for the film.
Olney Theatre Center