Monday, October 29, 2007

Review: Evita at CUA (performance review)

Work: Evita, a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
Ensemble: The Catholic University of America
When: Saturday, October 27, 2007, 8PM
Where: Hartke Theater Mainstage, CUA, Washington, DC

The story of The Catholic University of America's production of Evita last Saturday was one of turning a classic Webber hit - with its few outstanding faults - into an enjoyable evening with some moments of magic.

Junior Amanda Roberts delivered a most convincing Evita, depicting this (in)famous character in Argentine history as sly and headstrong. Roberts's voice was equally well-suited to the belting nature of "Rainbow High" as to the warm, sweet quality demanded by the show's most recognizable piece, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina." She was consistent in her stage presence and vocal production the entire evening, playing very well off both co-stars Andrew Halpin and Donald Codden. While never quite achieving the superstar quality of the historical Evita herself, Roberts displayed an emotional versatility and strength that is certain to serve her well in future roles.

The story's narrator, Ché (sophomore Andrew Halpin), carried much of the show with energy and a clear sense of the dramatic shape of his recitative-like phrases. Halpin performed with a confidence that seemed to encourage the rest of the cast, particularly in his spirited "High Flying, Adored." The quick transitions between musical theater and rock styles of vocal production gave him no trouble at all, although a few of his rock style lines sounded uncomfortably forced. Halpin's final few lines fell flat as the ending of the show, but the task of trying to make up for this authors' error must fall with the director, not the actors. Largely due to the writers devising a plot line with no clear signal of finality, this was, in all honesty, perhaps the least emotionally and artistically satisfying ending I have ever experienced in a theater.

Donald Codden seemed the most vocally comfortable and physically grounded cast member on stage, and both his acting and singing as Perón came across as entirely natural. Though it is not exactly a typical Andrew Lloyd Webber show-stopper like "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," Codden's lyric performance of "She Is a Diamond" was easily one of the vocal highlights of the night.

Channeling a bit of Tom Jones for the night, Senior Christopher Mueller carried the role of Magaldi with plenty of glitz, swagger, and bravado to capture his receptive audience. The liberties he took with the tempi were generally appropriate, though these rubato phrases did become predictably regular as "On This Night of a Thousand Stars" progressed. The high note (a B, I'm guessing?) in his reprise at the charity concert, however, soared impressively.

At first, the ballad "Another Suitcase in Another Hall," sung by Perón's Mistress (junior Kristiana Jarquin-Moreland) felt entirely out of place in the show; indeed, it appears to have been inserted in the process of revising the work, and likely should have been moved or left out entirely. Thankfully, Jarquin-Moreland overcame this shortcoming of plot with her lyrical and expressive singing. By the time one stanza of Rice's lyrics had passed, most of the audience was moved and had overlooked her song's lack of dramatic necessity.

The chorus was used effectively, within an appropriately loud and raucous presence in the Act I closer, "A New Argentina," and a more subdued role in the requiem and "Santa Evita." The entire ensemble generally moved very well in the production - a credit to director Jane Pesci-Townsend, who never let the chorus remain static for too long yet also didn't allow their movements to distract from the action. The "musical chairs" ensemble segment was staged with a cute simplicity that contrasted the rigid military climate delightfully. CUA alumnus Miguel Jarquin-Moreland provided suitable choreography, with an especially insightful moment when Evita sings in her back while elevated by the chorus, echoing the physical layout of her funeral procession at the top of Act I. (Of course, this particular blocking may have been designed by Ms. Pesci-Townsend.)

Music director and conductor Denise Puricelli is to be commended for taming the jumpy, occasionally irregular music - along with her able pit band - into a solid performance that hit every cue. The only notable fault in her performance was her somewhat timid bows at the end, as she certainly earned every second of applause and then some.

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