Dinner With 'Evita': Complex Woman, Complex Play

Some Flaws, But Annapolis Troupe Worth Seeing

September 26, 1990|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

She was a strange woman and her story makes for a strange show.

Eva Peron was the ill-fated wife of Argentine dictator Juan Peron, a woman whose charisma bewitched her country's masses to her husband's political advantage.

Hypocrisy, corruption, megalomania and death wouldn't seem to lend themselves to Broadway froth, and, in "Evita," the Andrew Lloyd-Webber-Tim Rice production, which operatically recounts Eva's life and times, they don't. Truly, there's not an endearing character in sight.

The opportunistic, bed-hopping Eva engenders little in the way of sustained audience affection. Her husband is a faithful onstage representation of one of the 20th century's true moral dullards. Even Che, the South American revolutionary who assumes the role of a Greek choragus in this unhappy piece, is a study of indignant intensity, not amiability.

But for all this challenging content, "Evita" is vintage Andrew Lloyd-Webber. It is musical theater of surpassing cleverness; a revealing score full of lyrical melodies, dramatic choral interludes and unexpected, complex rhythmic twists and turns. It is a show eminently worth doing and seeing when at its best.

Though the "Evita" currently running at the Annapolis Dinner Theater falls short in some significant respects, enough of the show's remarkable substance comes through to make this a production that deserves to be seen.

The strength of this production is the terrific ensemble that has been assembled to portray the military, the snooty Argentine upper-crust and the downtrodden "Decamisados," the "shirtless" peasants whose mystical connection with Eva kept Peron in power.

These are very demanding choral selections and they are sung passionately and with an accuracy that belies the fact that entrances and cut-offs must be divined out of thin air since a conductorless pre-recorded tape provides the accompaniment. Not to sound catty, but our Summer Garden Theater colleagues, whoses productions have been let down by half-hearted choral participation, should come see "Evita" and take note.

Director Barry Bach has fashioned scenes that unfold smartly and his choreographer has made ample use of a cast that knows how to move.

The only negative to the ensemble work was a bit of Act II sloppiness that made me wonder if the singers wouldn't have been better off harnessing their vocal energy instead of embarking on an endless round of "Happy Birthdays" and "Anniversaries" around the theater during intermission.

As far as the leads are concerned, one must begin by saying that Evita and Che are two of the toughest vocal roles I know of in music theater. Both are onstage for virtually the entire show and Lloyd-Webber's demands are incessant. Both roles sit very high in the voice, which makes sustained belting well nigh impossible, not that this Evita, Ann Alexander, didn't try. Peron, really an operatic baritone role, is no day at the beach either.

Alexander's conquest of Eva Duarte de Peron was more a headlong -- than a calculated effort and, ultimately, the end result was unconvincing.

Vocally, she pushed, and when taxed by the demands of the soprano register, she pushed some more. Even the hauntingly intimate "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" never quite seemed to relax.

With haughty, eyes-wide-open stares, she convinced the audience of her well-intentioned energy but not of her character's inner complexity.

I enjoyed Tom Magette as the cynical Che, who came off as the show's most intriguing character. His tenor voice handled Lloyd-Webber's murderous endurance run very well most of the time. His voice expresses itself best in its upper reaches, though, occasionally, Che's menacing commentary is spat out in the lower range, which didn't ring out quite so powerfully.

Vocally, the most suitable of the leads was Bryce Hopkins as Peron. While a bit constrained onstage, he assumed the dictator's role with ringing musical authority. He was terrific.

I also enjoyed Chip Rice as Magaldi, a sleazy Latin singer who sang "On this Night of a Thousand Stars" with great style and enthusiasm.

Christine Ansero, as Peron's mistress, sang "Another Suitcase, Another Hall" prettily, but I wonder if her little girlishness wasn't a bit overdone.

Beautifully done once again was the Annapolis Dinner Theater's cuisine, which changes completely with each new production. Beef Burgundy en croute, a delicious stuffed turkey breast and a saffroned linguine chock full of shrimp and mussels were the highlights.

I can report that it is possible to cry for Argentina on a full stomach.

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