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‘Evita’ gets a new look: Broadway By the Bay takes new approach to musical theater staple
April 04, 2014, 05:00 AM By Judy Richter Daily Journal

Mark Kitaoka
Alicia Gangi Malone (Eva) and Anthony Bernal (Peron) star in Broadway By the Bay’s ‘Evita.’

From left: Jennifer Mitchell, Mary Theresa Capriles, Ryan Mardesich, Juliana Lustendar, Chase Campbell, Patty Reinhart, Nina Feliciano, Melissa Reinertson, Leah Shesky, Danielle Philapil, Derrick Contreras, Elizabeth Cox, Lizzie Moss.

“Evita,” the blockbuster based on the life of Argentina’s Eva Peron, has been a staple of the musical theater for more than three decades, starting as an album and then opening in London before moving to the United States.

Its U.S. appearances started with the production that moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco and then to Broadway in 1979. Now Broadway By the Bay is staging it.

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, “Evita” starts with the heroine’s death from cancer in 1952 at age 33, when she was a world celebrity.

It then goes back to a small Argentina town in 1934, when Eva Duarte (Alicia Gangi Malone) was a 15-year-old aspiring actress with big ambitions. She connects with a nightclub singer, Agustin Magaldi (Daniel Hurst), and persuades him to take her to Buenos Aires.

There she establishes a career as an actress and radio performer while sleeping her way upward until she becomes the wife of Gen. Juan Peron (Anthony Bernal), who is elected president.

Commenting on her actions is revolutionary Che Guevara (Alex Rodriguez), who serves as a foil to her questionable tactics.

This is BBB’s third go at the show. Then known as Peninsula Civic Light Opera, the company staged it in 1986 and again in 2002 under its present name.

Directed by Jason Hoover, this latest production is intriguing because its staging is new, at least to me. Starting in 1979, others have been directed by the brilliant Hal Prince or inspired by him.

Likewise, the sets and choreography in those previous shows were based on the original, which included newsreels and photos of the real Eva.

This new approach isn’t nearly as impressive, but perhaps because it’s so spartan, it can offer new insights into the music. Although it might seem that Lloyd Webber is merely recycling some melodies in the two-act show, he’s using them to ironic effect to illustrate changes in Eva’s life.

For example, one of the sweetest songs is “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” sung by Peron’s mistress (Samantha Cardenas) after Eva has evicted her from Peron’s bed.

One of her lines is “So what happens now?” The male chorus replies, “You’ll get by, you always have before.” This refrain is reprised in a final scene between Juan and the dying Eva.

The penultimate “Montage” is just that — a montage of the songs that chronicle Eva’s life from age 15, a deathbed flashback.

Choreography by Alex Hsu comes closest to the original in “Peron’s Latest Flame,” sung by Che, soldiers and the aristocracy. The soldiers march rectangularly in stiff precision while the aristocrats move diagonally in their own lockstep.

Both groups oppose Eva, but the rousing “A New Argentina,” which immediately follows and ends Act 1, shows how much the common people adore her.

The best-known song is “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” sung by Eva at Juan’s inauguration and in her final broadcast to the nation. Although Malone is an effective actor and good dancer, her singing isn’t up to this demanding role. She sometimes becomes shrill or goes flat.

The others are all good singers, especially Rodriguez as Che. Unlike his predecessors, who usually wore scruffy beards and fatigues, Rodriguez is well-groomed and wears a suit and tie at first. He’s then in shirtsleeves and blends in well with the people of Argentina.

Sound and lighting are the biggest weakness. Jon Hayward’s sound is so loud that it muddies the lyrics. Since the show is sung through like an opera, understanding the lyrics is crucial to following the story.

The lighting by Seamus Strahan-Mauk is too busy, even distracting, especially when overhead lights swing into the audience’s eyes.

After seeing many previous productions, including the film with Madonna, it’s difficult to see this one as if it were the first.

It’s likely that many people in the audience, especially the younger ones, were new to the show. Nevertheless, the music and most of the performances are captivating whether this is one’s first or eighth viewing.

“Evita” will continue at the Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway, Redwood City, through April 13. For tickets and information call (650) 579-5565 or visit www.broadwaybythebay.org.

 

 

Tags: argentina, especially, people, broadway, lyrics, first,


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