Downtown San Jose has become A New Argentina as
Children’s Musical Theater tackles Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s mega-hit Evita.
Not many youth theatre companies tackle this one. Besides the mature themes,
it’s a challenging production, and you need a female lead that has the range
for one of the most demanding vocal roles in musical theatre.
CMT has enough to double-cast the show. I was only in town
in time to see the “Webber” cast led by 17-year-old Hayley Steele in the
title role. Hayley can belt out the necessary belting as Evita shouts out her
spirited speeches and demands, but Hayley’s extraordinary voice is best
displayed when cajoling her lovers and her adoring audience of Argentine
supporters – as she does in her signature song Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.
Her performance is also impressive in how she develops her character, beginning
the play as a member of the lower classes with huge ambitions, but not
outwardly different than any other. We see her learning how to use her
feminine wiles in her first scene as she dances almost hesitantly, apparently
forcing herself into becoming the fiery and sensual woman who will take Argentina,
and particularly the men of Argentina, by storm. It’s a transformation she soon accomplishes
with great success, but which is eventually overcome by the pain and fear of
terminal cancer, reducing the proud and confident Eva into a physically weak,
emotionally fearful young woman. Eva and her husband Peron (Matt
Hill) use great body language for their powerfully performed final scene as
Peron’s concern and Eva’s fear and isolation grow desperate.
Tristan Crisol stars as our narrator and Eva’s
antagonist Che, a young, charismatic revolutionary who is not at all impressed
with what Eva Peron did to help the people of Argentina. Tristan combines a
smooth singing voice with a personality that clearly relishes trying to rip
away Eva’s legendary status. Matt Abel is a hoot as the cheesy lounge
singer Magaldi who gets suckered into taking Eva to Buenos Aires. And Christine
Freschi is Peron’s booted mistress, singing the poignant Another
Suitcase in Another Hall as an innocent and sad young girl with a sweet and
equally innocent voice.
The ensemble shines in many scenes choreographed by the
choreographer of the 25th Anniversary National Tour of Evita,
Gia Solari. Highlights include a very synchronized military phalanx and
a highly energetic Rainbow Tour featuring the comedy of Peron enjoying
the company of two uniformed high school girls on his lap, with Faryl Hoang
and Amy Perry using hilarious facial expressions and personality to show
just how cool and fun they think it is to get so much attention (and candy)
from the president of Argentina. The ensemble also nails the Money Kept
Rolling In number that has Evita happily going through her cash box that
sits literally on the backs of some Buenos Aires peasants.
Overall, Director Ian Leonard does a good job
with a huge production. He updates the historical slideshow of Eva Peron’s funeral
with partially colorized pictures, as well as images of the ensemble as they
react to the news of Eva’s death, and he draws us into the excited crowds of A
New Argentina by having the cast surround the audience along the sides.
Musical Director Amie Jan and her orchestra nicely handle the
challenging score, and Jacob Mirelez’s costumes work well with the
gradual transition of Evita’s personality from poor but ambitious to the
aggressive actress to the glamorous first lady of Argentina.
Performs March 9-18, 2007.
National Youth Theatre
~ Cast ~
Che: Tristan Crisol
Eva: Hayley Steele
Magaldi: Matt Abel
Eva's Mother: Jordan Corey
Eva's Brother: Michael Lane
Peron: Matt Hill
Tango Couple: Taggart Frost and Daron O'Donnell
Mistress: Christine Freschi
Buenos Aires Dancers:
People of Argentina:
Children of Argentina:
Director: Ian Leonard
Choreographer: Gia Solari
Musical Director: Amie Jan
Vocal Director: Paul Ingraham
Costume Designer: Jacob Mirelez
Set Designer: Jim Culley
Hair & Make-up Design: Norma Greenberg
Stage Manager: Dave Perry
Lighting Designer: Andrew Hungerford
Sound Designer: Brian Spencer