BWW Review: EVITA at Susquehanna Stage Company
The Susquehanna Stage Company recently premiered Evita in their second performance space, the Eater (rhymes with "later") Theater. This Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera is a fine example of the type of full-scale show that this new area is designed to highlight. A cast of close to forty performers and a nine-piece orchestra fit comfortably within its generous proscenium. A robust array of stage lighting, and some very attractive wall banners further highlight the company's commitment to a quality live theater experience.
Of course, with any new performance space there are bound to be some growing pains to work through. The Eater Theater has two. The house seating is not raised, rear audience members are more than likely to see the back of heads rather than low to the ground stage action. Additional use of levels and ramps for future productions will greatly help.
A second challenge is the need for an improved acoustic blend between orchestra and actors. For most of the ballads, things were fine, but for many of the louder, up-tempo numbers it was difficult to understand what was being sung. The problem didn't seem to be with line projection or diction; it was just a matter of being overwhelmed by enthusiastic accompaniment.
This was especially problematic since Evita is a rock opera. The lack of spoken dialogue means that all plot elements and characterization are carried through song. If you cannot consistently understand the lyrics, it is easy to get lost. Director, Jim Johnson would have benefited from embedding additional action and visualizations into the storytelling process.
Ironically in such a large show, there are only five principal roles. Julia Tighe Howery stars as Eva Peron, the highly ambitious and controversial lead of the show. Howery looks fantastic in a bevy of costumes by Jacquee Johnson. She effectively portrays the evolution of a woman born into poverty who went on to be the beloved First Lady of Argentina. Howery shines in her solo ballads, both the iconic, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" and the heartfelt, "You Must Love Me".
Jared Korb is great as instigator, Che Guevara. Guevara serves as our narrator and guide, and helps the audience get a more well-rounded perspective of the show's heroine. Korb has a solid voice and brings some grounded and welcomed cynicism to the tale.
Kevin Ditzler plays against type as Juan Peron. Ditzler is most often cast as characters seen as meek or cautious. His excellent local takes in Glengarry Glen Ross, True West, and Company come to mind. Therefore, I think this portrayal get mixed results. While I wasn't convinced of Peron's extreme confidence and seasoned military background, Ditzler was much more effective in scenes that conveyed his intense love and dedication to his wife.
Joe Kelly and Cara Ditzler round out the principals as Augustin Magaldi and Mistress, respectively. Kelly is very good as the famed tango singer who served as Eva's first stepping stone to fame and fortune. Cara Ditzler (Kevin's real-life wife) is wonderful at evoking audience sympathy, in a cameo role as Juan Peron's jilted unnamed lover. Her tearjerker, "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" is one of my favorites.
Despite some initial kinks, Evita is a memorable way to inaugurate Central Pennsylvania's newest performance space. I am fully confident that future casts and crews will build upon Susquehanna Stage Company's legacy of quality and thoughtful entertainment. Evita plays now through August 4th. Tickets and more information can be found at their website.