Evita

2.5 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: June 13, 2010
A version of this review also appeared in the August 5-11, 2010 edition of Echo Magazine
Don’t yell at me Argentina!

Ouch! After three glorious nights of openings in the 2010 Stratford Shakespeare Festival (where even the unnecessary sound reinforcement of Kiss Me Kate couldn’t dampen my spirits) the winning streak came to an abrupt end as decibel madness left any chance for a subtle moment in the tragic story of Eva Perón MIA.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing better than a huge dose of loud: most full-size symphony orchestras at full cry can out “shout” columns of speakers. But those creative minds who never knew electricity—much less body and stage microphones—recognized that a prime ingredient in gaining then maintaining the interest of an audience is balance.

After a marvellously staged tableau in the cinema (designer Douglas Paraschuk—the magician of scrim and video designer Sean Nieuwenhuis spectacularly combined their visual skills all night long) the promise of greatness for director Gary Griffin’s show was immediately blown out of the Avon Theatre.

“Requiem for Evita,” with the full chorus proclaiming their sadness at the beloved icon’s passing, might well have raised her from the dead to find the volume control. The rude consonants and brittle vowels would become the norm—not the exception. With such constant push (no doubt delighting the implements of reinforcement and amplification and their manipulators) it wasn’t surprising that pitch vagaries would find their way into the mix adding tonal insult to aural injury. Any hope of razor-sharp cohesion between musical director Rick Fox and his capable musicians and the stage was dashed from the get-go (with so much sound, who could hear straight?—not even the magical mixing board has a “togetherness” slider). Can’t blame the cast, who gamely did what they were asked.

Not even “Santa Evita” (offered by a covey of angelic girls) was permitted to become musique au natural—if it had, the result would have been more stunning (and moving) than real cannons in Tchaikovsky’s Overture to 1812.

In real life, Eva Perón was ambitious, domineering and a force to be reckoned with, but not one who unceasingly yelled her way to the top; her physical charms and wiliness were much more effective in getting her way.

Chilina Kennedy lived the role most convincingly, but we’ll never know what degree of intimately subdued, subtle insights she might have hidden inside (we suspect much more than was allowed on stage)—even the showstopper “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” was more declaimed than privately shared. Similarly, Juan Chioran—mostly stand-and-deliver, which may have suited his position as president, but added little to the otherwise steady momentum—was at his best in the ensemble songs (“The Art of the Possible,” “Rainbow Tour”).

As the narrator, Che, Josh Young produced the best voice of the cast largely because his edgy, street-smart, rebellious persona wasn’t required to slip into deeply personal calm reflection. Vince Staltari’s (Magaldi) nightclub songs (notably “On This Night of a Thousand Stars”) were delectably full bore, yet weren’t permitted an iota of daring introspection that true crooners utilize to enthrall their admirers and save their pipes.

The highlight of Tracey Flye’s choreographic contributions were the marching soldiers whose ensemble, enthusiasm and energy belied what they were mightily capable of doing when real-life Peróns’ squelched the opposition with a few orders of “disappeared.” Not only deft movement but satire tonight!

Less than 24-hours previous, the passage of some 16 years in The Winter’s Tale (cross-reference below) was an inventive bit of staging in and of itself.

Nearly the same time frame uttered once the music was done (“Only the pedestal was completed, when Evita's body disappeared for 17 years….") stopped the narrative rather than completing it. All that could be heard in the silence before the applause broke out, was a cacophonous ringing in the ears, happy the assault was over instead of eagerly pressing memory’s replay button to warmly recall the many poignant tunes and telling lyrics that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had in mind in a show that should be noted for its dynamic range. JWR

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Director - Gary Griffin
Musical Director - Rick Fox
Choreographer - Tracey Flye
Lyrics - Tim Rice
Set Designer - Douglas Paraschuk
Lighting Designer - Kevin Fraser
Sound Designer - Jim Neil
Photographer - David Hou
Video Designer - Sean Nieuwenhuis
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