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BWW Review: Spectacular EVITA Takes MSMT Stage by Storm

Twenty-five years after it was last presented at the Pickard Theater, Andrew Lloyd-Webber/Tim Rice's masterpiece has returned in triumph to Maine State Music Theatre in a stunning new production directed and choreographed by Marc Robin. Boasting the largest cast in the company's history (46), this Evita is gripping and epic, at the same time that it is touchingly intimate and magnificently detailed. The size of the endeavor is both literal and figurative, for MSMT's Evita succeeds not only in its grand sweep, but also in the magnitude of its intangible assets - unsparing honesty, intensity, and emotional depth.

Robin remains true to the meat of the story and the intentions of the show's original creators, while managing to put his own thrilling spin on the piece - not only in his characterful, complex choreography, but also in the cinematic transitions and pacing in a production that makes vivid use of historical projections (including actual footage of Eva Duarte acting on screen). Robin draws from the three principals intense performances of contrasting colors. But, perhaps, his greatest coup is his deployment of the large ensemble - not only in the logistical sense (the Pickard is an intimate space) as he fills the multi-level stage, aisles and balconies with action that envelops the audience and draws them into the drama - but also in its symbolic impact. Brilliantly, he captures the duality of the crowd's roles; they are collectively a megalith mob, but individually each harbors his own story, painted in poignant human detail. The resulting whole is coherent, never showy for its own sake, but nevertheless, replete with show stopping moments.

Andrew Lloyd-Webber's score - arguably his best - is in the capable hands of Music Director Edward Reichert (and assistant Patrick Fanning) and the excellent orchestra. Opening and closing with classically influenced choral pieces, the music offers a motivic structure, rousing anthems, word-dense narratives, and infectious tango rhythms, and it demands accomplished vocalism from all, delivered with exceptional power by the central trio of Eva, Che, and Peron.

Charles S. Kading provides the evocative scenery, dominated by an upstage bridge which helps layer the staging as well as a series of drops with projected images by Dan Efros which vibrantly create the historical context and help briskly propel the action. Jeffrey S. Koger's lighting design is marked by dramatic angles and sometimes gritty chiaroscuro that signals the underlying social issues of the work and plays a large role in the dramatic flow and emotional fabric of the piece. Kurt Alger's costumes and wigs offer a stunning kaleidoscope ranging from glamorous to shabby, with Eva's iconic white gown and her other outfits true fashion statements. Nate Putnam keeps a firm handle on and excellent balance in the complicated sound design. Mark Stuart and Jaime Verazin choreograph and dance the mesmerizing tango numbers, designed to shadow the action and lend it a lyrical dimension.

Down to the very last performer, the cast is extraordinary. Kate Fahrner as Eva Peron and Matt Farcher as Che both make impressive role debuts and share an electric on stage chemistry; they are combative, provocative, angry, yet involuntarily attracted and repelled by each other. Fahrner's Eva travels the complex arc from small-town ambition to sophisticated ruthlessness, never losing sight of the character's mysterious charisma. She is elegant, charming, conniving, both vulnerable and hard as nails, and somehow at the core hugely needy of love. She puts her own stamp on Eva Duarte Peron and takes complete possession of her big numbers, notably a luminous and very genuine "Don't Cry for Me Argentina."

Matt Farcher is every bit her match. Moving with the sinuous grace of a panther, he plays the revolutionary Che with seething anger, mordant wit, cheeky insouciance, and the chameleon skill to flit among the character's several masks. He possesses a clarion, compelling tenor that trenchantly delivers the dense text of his music, and he knows how to hold an audience in the palm of his hand.

Nat Chandler creates an elegant, haughty Juan Peron -charmingly seductive and icily ruthless by turns, and he, too, commands a powerful, musically refined baritone. Ben Michael does vocal justice to one of the score's most haunting melodies, "On This Night of a Thousand Stars," and he plays the tango singer Magaldi with a conceited charm. As Peron's deposed mistress, Salina Qureshi has a touching moment to shine in her fragile, heartfelt lament, "Another Suitcase in Another Hall." The tango duo, Jaime Verazin and Mark Stuart, are dancers of exceptional athleticism and grace, and they fearlessly perform some dazzling and difficult lifts.

The remaining artists in the ensemble are uniformly excellent, every and each one having moments to command attention and draw the viewer into their individual stories. Comprised of veteran actors, MSMT interns and local artists, as well as a children's contingent, they work together with an energy and seamlessness that shapes the vital underpinnings of the drama, so much so that it seems a bit churlish to mention only a few remarkable contributions. Still with apologies to the rest (see entire cast list below), on opening night among the many striking portrayals: Liz Shivener as Eva's mother and a series of other Argentine women, Siri Howard and Jessica Lorion as two of Eva's friends, Mike Backes, Billy Clark Taylor, Kyle E. Baird, Raymond Marc Dumont, Ceasar F. Barajas, Cameron Wright in a series of colorful characters, and Alex Drost, Giovanni DiGabriele, Kyle Laing and Marty Lauter, who make noteworthy contributions to the male dance numbers. The children's chorus also has a touching moment in "Santa Evita" with young Alexandra Spiegel anchoring the group.

Switching gears from the chamber intimacy of Ghost to the epic proportions of Evita speaks volumes about the range of MSMT's repertoire, the depth of the theatre's talent pool, and the vision and daring of its leadership. In the last several years Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark and Managing Director Stephanie Dupal have coalesced the resources of their company and have challenged artists and creatives to achieve a bold vision - one that is first-class in every way.

Evita Cast: Glenn Anderson, Kobi Appleby, Mike Backes, Anna Bainter-Clark, Kyle E. Baird, Ceasar F. Barajas, Charlotte Blakemore, Lily Carrigan, Nat Chandler, Aymeric Dauge-Roth, Justin DeParis, Ashley J. H. Deschamp, Giovanni DiGabriele, Andy Dolci, Alex Drost, Raymond Marc Dumont, Kate Fahrner, Matt Farcher, Megan Flynn, AiDan Gallagher, Siri Howard, Berkley Jones, Kyle Laing, Elaine Landry, Marty Lauter, Jessica Lorion, Eli Maynard, Ben Michael, Heather Morgan, Haley Ostir, Salena Qureshi, Lexi Rabadi, Alexa Reddy, Olivia Ashley Reed, Matty Rickard, Ernest Sauceda, Liz Shivener, Alexandra Spiegel, Nina Stevens, Mark Stuart, Billy Clark Taylor, Madeleine Vaillancourt, Jaime Verazin, Matthew West, Katie Whittemore, Cameron Wright

Photos courtesy of MSMT, Roger S. Duncan, photographer

Evita runs from June 29-July 16, 2016, at the Pickard Theater, 1 Bath Rd., Brunswick, ME 207-725-8769.

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From This Author Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold