Sunday, April 24, 2016

Rainbow High: If Not Quite Iconic, Marriott Theatre's 'Evita' is Attractively Satisfying -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire, IL
Thru June 5

I'm pretty sure Evita was the first blockbuster Broadway musical I knew about in real time.

My father was an avid musical theater fan and we had a sizable selection of original cast recordings in the family record collection. 

I can't remember exactly when Evita entered my consciousness--or the record cabinet--but I think I knew that Patti LuPone played the titular role on Broadway early on during its initial run. (The show opened in Sept. 1979 and ran until 1983.)

Too cool in junior high--or so I thought--to accompany the rest of the family to an early 1980s national tour at Chicago's Shubert Theatre, it took until my musical theater renaissance for me to finally see Evita in 2000.

That was the first production I ever saw at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, where I've enjoyed dozens of musicals since.

Including, once again Evita, which I also saw three other times, including most recently in October 2013 on a tour that came to the Oriental Theatre in downtown Chicago.

In my review of that production, I wrote about how Evita is my favorite among the impressive musical canon of Andrew Lloyd Webber, with a superb, deep score and brilliant lyrics by Tim Rice.

As with that version, I found Marriott's latest rendition sufficiently impressive to satisfy most anyone who knows and loves--or is newly coming to--the material.

Per my @@@@ (out of 5) rating, I think this production is excellent if not quite phenomenal, but both Marriott's vast subscriber base and ad hoc patrons should enjoy plenty of delights.

Hannah Corneau--who is sharing the demanding title role with Samantha Pauly and performed the night I attended--makes for a lithe and lovely Eva Peron, who she depicts from an ambitious (even scheming) 15-year-old whose radio and acting aspirations take her to Buenos Aires, where she eventually meets, weds and accompanies military colonel Juan Peron in his rise to the Argentinean Presidency.

Since the last time I saw Evita, I visited Buenos Aires where I saw Eva's likeness, famed Casa Rosada balcony and grave in a city and country where she remains iconic six decades after her death.

So even though Tim Rice's narrative--in the program he isn't credited as Book writer, simply the lyricist, as there is virtually no dialogue that isn't sung, yet he won the 1980 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical, one of seven Tonys Evita won that year--likely has some historical discrepancies (most stage & screen biographies usually do), it was particularly interesting to see Eva Peron's story depicted once again.

Part of what makes Evita so brilliant is that it is far from a hagiography, despite songs such as "Santa Evita" that show the love of Eva's ardent admirers.

Through a narrator named Che--loosely based on Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara but never identified as such--Rice and Webber spend much of Evita mocking its title character for, among other things, sleeping her way to the top and largely serving her own interests.

Austin Leach, who brings recent Broadway credits to Lincolnshire, is nicely derisive as Che, and while he wasn't a vocal match for Mandy Patinkin--as heard on the Original Broadway Cast Recording on the way to the show--much as Corneau didn't equal LuPone, this is none too damning as the same could be said for most vocalists ever.

I really liked seeing local stage veteran Larry Adams as Juan Peron, and with familiar names and faces throughout the ensemble (George Keating, James Rank, Jameson Cooper, Emily Rohm, etc.), the cast was deeply impressive, particularly on Webber/Rice's powerful choral numbers, most demonstrably "A New Argentina."

Evita is a musical filled with terrific songs, and Corneau ("Don't Cry For Me, Argentina"), Leach
("High Flying Adored") and Eliza Palasz ("Another Suitcase in Another Hall," among Webber & Rice's most beautiful creations) well-handled the ballads.

Eva and Juan's enterprising courtship song, "I'll Be Surprisingly Good for You" is terrific--and lends to musical motifs throughout--and Corneau does a nice job on "You Must Love Me," which was added after Webber & Rice re-teamed to write it for the film version of Evita starring Madonna.

Forceful choreography--often enacted by the show's military forces--by director Alex Sanchez powers strong transitional numbers like "The Art of the Possible" and "Peron's Latest Flame," and for all the strong individual performances, this Evita is more so a joy when lots of people fill Marriott's square (but in the round) stage.

I've long admired Marriott Theatre's ability to adapt large-scale Broadway musicals in ways that give patrons on all four sides clear sight lines, but while Evita is great enough musically to render the sparsity of the scenery rather moot, this was a production where the spatial limitations and sacrifices were felt.

Still, at both intermission and the end, I instantly turned to my companion and enthusiastically proclaimed, "I like it!"

And, of course, I was singing along in my head quite often.

So while there were a few aspects that left this production from feeling "OMG!" incredible, there is also nothing about it that should dissuade anyone from seeing--and enjoying--it.

I count Evita among the very best stage musicals of all-time, and this is a strong version of it, if not quite as iconic as its title character became.

But great songs, strong singing, terrific dancing, an informative narrative, excellent lyrics ("I came from the people, they need to adore me, so Christian Dior me, from my head to my toes") should leave nothing for Lincolnshire--nor Argentina--to cry about.

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