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BWW Reviews: The Gallery Players' EVITA Misses the Mark

Dale Sampson and Carman Napier.

For actors looking for work in New York City and for audiences looking to see some of Broadway's biggest hits in an intimate venue at extremely affordable prices, Brooklyn's Gallery Players consistently provides those opportunities. This past weekend they opened a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's hit musical EVITA. This modern classic presents audiences with some of musical theatre's meatiest roles, offering plenty of material for audiences and cast members alike to sink their teeth into. Unfortunately, Gallery Player's serving of EVITA arrives overdone.

Music director Emily Croome leads the assembled band on keys, and her work is the production's first misstep. Many of the iconic scores tempos have been slowed, making each act run about five minutes longer than audiences are used to. An additional five minutes per act, 10 minutes total, doesn't sound like much; however, these added minutes accumulate in numbers that feature Eva and Che and are not spread equally across the score. Therefore numbers, especially those that typically set the tone and pace of the show such as "Oh What a Circus" and "Buenos Aires," limp along. The almost manic vibrancy of the score's Latin beats lose their drive. Sadly, the ballads are not spared from this treatment either. During "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" and during much of the second act an older gentleman two rows in front of me was conducting the production in an effort to speed the music up. Also, the couple behind me were humming along and commenting on how they remembered the music being faster.

The direction by Mark Harborth is this version of EVITA's largest hurdle. Without the trappings of Broadway, it becomes clear that he is attempting to do something different and unique with the material, especially in its treatment of Eva Duarte de Perón. As the show transitions from "A Cinema in Buenos Aires" to "Requiem for Evita," he has a member of his ensemble forcing sobs of sorrow, which instantly makes this production feel like a Saturday morning cartoon version of EVITA. This same actress is directed to overact her disdain at Augustine Magaldi's performance in Junín, falling out of her chair laughing at the tango singer. His Che fancifully flits about the stage, twirling with attitude. His Eva is so cold that she is almost entirely emotionless. Not to mention, she is directed to show no love towards Juan Perón, but she also isn't directed to be understandably manipulative and conniving.

As clichéd and caricatured as Mark Harborth directed his cast to be it is absolutely surprising that they were not directed to speak and sing with the accent of Speedy Gonzalez, even when shouting gritos of "¡Arriba!" during "Buenos Aries." Instead, we get a show where the whole of the cast and ensemble speaks and sings in American English accents, except for Jonathan Mesisca who utilizes a believable Argentinian accent as Juan Perón. Finally, by the end of "Lament," Mark Harborth has his ensemble show pure hatred for the Argentine Santa Evita, leaving the audience wondering if the people of Argentina cruelly made Eva believe they cared for her when they did not.

Elyse Daye Hart's choreography, with Trey Mitchell as Associate Choreographer and Jackie Reynolds as Assistant Choreographer, starts strong but loses all steam before "Perón's Latest Flame," where the soldiers move about the stage like lost and confused high school freshman on their first day of marching band camp. Not to mention, Che is left on stage alone for most of "And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)," which is a total waste of material that could easily be a showstopping production number.

Vocally, Carman Napier as Eva and Dale Sampson as Che are competent and seem truly capable of performing their roles. Yet, the direction they are given makes them appear to be horribly miscast. It doesn't hurt that they are also pitted against the volume of the band and even the ensemble in key moments. For example, Carman Napier has to scream to be heard over the band during "A New Argentina" and the ensemble's chanting of "¡Perón!" almost drowns out her emotional speech on the balcony of the Casa Rosada. Likewise, both are given extra musical cues through repeated introductory measures to ensure that they find all of their entrances in the score's more complicated songs and time signatures.

The real stand out of the production is Jonathan Mesisca's Juan Perón. Somehow he rises above the muck that is splashed over this production, creating a character that is ambitious yet caring. We see his drive in "The Art of the Possible" come through, even if the staged game of cards isn't exactly clear. The tears misting his eyes when he has to tell Eva she is dying tugs on our heartstrings, even though she is on the elevated, upstage portion of the set and he is down front. His resonant baritone instrument sounds great on key numbers like "I'd be Surprisingly Good for You" and "She is a Diamond."

Costuming by Joey Haws is detailed and truly conveys the time period well. The visible dirt, grime, and sweat on the clothing of the laborers makes this element one of the best of the production. Also, Eva is given some truly wonderful clothing to wear, showcasing the opulence and wealth that surrounded her during her political life. The one exception is the hideous and unflattering black dress she wears for "Waltz for Eva and Che."

Despite all of the issues I had with this particular take on EVITA, the regulars at Gallery Players and those who seemed to be wandering in for the first time mostly seemed taken by the production. Even though I found much fault, I could see that the talent and potential for stellar musical theatre exists both in the organization and on the stage. It's just that this EVITA is too conceptual and trying too many different things, making it comes across as more of a light-hearted comedy where the heroine you didn't really connect with dies in the end.

EVITA runs through May 17, 2015 at the Gallery Players, 199 14th St. Brooklyn, NY 11215. For tickets and more information, please visit http://galleryplayers.com or call (212) 352-3101.


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From This Author David Clarke