In big role of `Evita,' petite Sarah Litzsinger is up to the challenge




There was only one Eva Peron, but audiences at the Hippodrome Theatre have been treated to two actresses in the title role of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita. Kathy Voytko played the former Argentine first lady for the first two performances. Then a week ago, Voytko's contract was up, and the rolewas taken over by Sarah Litzsinger.

According to her bio, Litzsinger "holds the distinction of being Broadway's longest running Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast." Curious to see how she'd do in this much harder-edged role, I paid a second visit to the production lastweekend.

Litzsinger is a petite actress, a characteristic that undoubtedly served her well in Beauty and the Beast, but is also appropriate for Eva Peron, who was only 5-foot-2. Combined with a singing voice that is strong with a tinge of sweetness, this gives her Evita a degree of vulnerability. It's a quality that enhances Evita's early scenes as a teenager as well as the later scenes in which the character is dying of cancer (Litzsinger makes an especially specterlike invalid).

And, Litzsinger also knows how to use her stature to unexpected advantage. The best example comes in the second-act "Waltz for Eva and Che," when Evita and her Che Guevera-inspired antagonist (Keith Byron Kirk) square off. Joining Kirk for the chorus, "There is evil, ever around/fundamental; system of government/quite incidental," Litzsinger not only holds her own, she imbues her tyrannical character with a genuine sense of menace.

So, at times a spitfire demagogue, and at other times appealingly Camille-esque, Litzsinger's performance proves an asset to an already admirable production.

'Evita's children

Another aspect of Evita casting regularly undergoes changes. The ensemble of eight children is new in each city. According to the show's assistant dance captain, Halden Michaels, who works with the youngsters, they are usually drawn fromlocal arts schools and theater-training programs.

Of the eight at the Hippodrome, seven - Autumn Cumbo, Tess Gann, Ava Geenen, Aaron Outlen, Neiman Outlen, Asya Shaw and Maddy Shay - come from TWIGS, the Baltimore School for the Arts' after-school program for elementary and middle school students. The remaining youngster, Cameron DelGrosso, is a 10th-grader at the school.

The children perform as the candle-bearing chorus in the second- act number "Santa Evita," and they also have walk-on roles in the rally scene in which Evita meets her future husband, Juan Peron.

Their rehearsal time is brief. On the day of the first performance, Michaels explains, "It's fast and furious. They get half an hour with us, just working on the blocking and the little bit of choreography that they have. Then we take the kids and run [their scenes] with them on stage." In addition, he says, sometimes "we'll go back and work with them as the show's progressing. At intermission, we'll take them up on stage."

With so little preparation, there's occasionally a slip-up on opening night. But Baltimore's kids "were probably our best group opening night so far," Michaels says. "They're good, and they're sharp, and the parents are lovely. When it works out like that, it's just a pleasure."

Evita continues through Sunday at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw St. Tickets are $26-$71. Call 410-547-SEAT.

Theatrical mischief

Not many Americans celebrate Guy Fawkes Day-the anniversary of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to blow up British Parliament and kill King James I-much less Mischief Night, which falls on Guy Fawkes' eve, Nov. 4. But the Gunpowder Plot was hot news when Shakespeare wrote King Lear. With that in mind, tomorrow Center Stage, whose production of Lear closes Sunday, will host "A Night of Mischief, Baltimore- Style."

Beginning at 10 at the theater, 700 N. Calvert St., mischief makers can engage in such activities as learning to swear in Elizabethan English, a la Fawkes; a latenight tour of Center Stage's darker recesses; dressing up as Fawkes, etc. Admission to Mischief Night is free. Call 410-332-0033.

All-male Shakespeare

Women didn't appear on stage in Shakespeare's day, and there won't be any on stage atWashington's Kennedy Center when Propeller Theatre Company's production of The Winter's Tale is performed Nov. 15-17. Headed by Edward Hall, Propeller is a British, all-male Shakespeare company that has performed in countries including Bangladesh, China and Spain.

The Winter's Tale is part of the Kennedy Center's edgy "etcetera! series." Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. in the Terrace Theater. Tickets are $25. Call 800-444-1324.

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