STEPHEN SONDHEIM
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Florida REVIEW: Evita National Tour at Broward Center

I had a great time at Evita tonight. Eviiiiiiiiiiiiiita, Eviiiiiiiiiiiiiita! Those familiar with the musical can hear the refrain of the downtrodden masses singing, beckoning, pleading with their Santa Evita to address them from the balcony of the Casa Rosada. The Evita chanting is downright religious sounding. However, like the real Eva Duarte, who 'slept her way' to being Evita Peron, first lady of Argentina, the Evita of the musical, as in real life, owes more to good old fashioned show business know how than to divine intervention.

EVITA has become an icon of the 'thru sung' musical. It has also firmly etched a place in immortality for the flim flam artist who cast her spell on the men who passed through her revolving bedroom door (literally onstage, from the always fertile mind of director Hal Prince) on her way to the presidential palace. When Eva was first lady of Argentina, she created the Eva Peron Foundation; raising money from the rich and throwing crumbs of charity to her worshipful, poor followers--the 'shirtless ones' as Peron called them. As Tim Rice's lyrics tell us, 'accountants only slow things down, figures get in the way.' This allowed the Perons to 'cream a little off the top for expenses, wouldn't you?' The Perons began amassing Swiss bank accounts as their country began rationing food. Eva's death from cancer at age 33, has forever left her as a figure of fascination, bewilderment and controversy.

Harold Prince's production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's EVITA is an excellent show. Excellent 'ain't shabby' in the world of musical theater. But great, is better. EVITA is not now, nor has it ever been a great show. Let us be clear that EVITA always had and continues to have moments of greatness. However, even these are best appreciated by those already familiar with the work. EVITA is much better the third time you see it than the first. And even better after you have listened to the recording repeatedly.

EVITA is multi layered on every layer. Its concepts have concepts. The barrage of often brilliant music and lyrics makes this show, quite simply, difficult to absorb and follow and understand on first viewing. You must pay rapt attention from the moment this show begins, have all your wits about you, be clear headed and posses an exceptionally good memory and set of ears to enjoy EVITA on first viewing. Most of us mere mortals are not equipped to accept, let alone enjoy all that EVITA is, when first encountered. Like all of Stephen Sondheim's solo works, EVITA demands investment of time and familiarity for us to fully reap its joys. Those of us making this investment in EVITA gain rich dividends, indeed.

This is certainly the best and most interesting score Mr. Webber has written for the theater. Then again, it does not have the instant accessibility and enjoyment factor that his PHANTOM does. But the music of EVITA and the lyrics by Mr. Rice are deeply textured, delightfully varied, fabulously orchestrated and tell this story. Often, in brilliant fashion.

Mr. Prince gives us moments of riveting theatricality all evening long. From the torch bearing, sign wielding mobs singing A New Argentina as they surround the scheming Perons in their bedroom, to Eva's transformation (she sings 'I'm their savior, that's what they call me, so Lauren Bacall me') into the Christian Dior wearing idol 'with just a little touch of star quality,' Hal Prince delivers the work expected from this master of theater. Watch how he flows the excellently high spirited, character driven choreography of Larry Fuller through the absolutely poetic lighting, designed by Richard Winkler. Simply put, Mr. Prince's work in EVITA is remarkable. It is as fresh, glorious, and inventive as it was in New York in 1979. Mr. Prince's is a masterful and timeless production of EVITA.

The original and uniformly top notch Broadway sets, designs, costumes, lighting, props and wigs have been recreated for this national tour. Tonight, EVITA felt like opening night. There is nothing second rate about this production of the Tony winning Best Musical. Kudos to the production staff, crew and cast for bringing us a performance as ravishing as EVITA's opening night on Broadway, over 25 years ago.

The ensemble is grand.  Craig Campbell, Kyra Campbell, Christian Harb, Mary Hieb, Courtney Krumsieck, Emily Legault, Carly Miller, Sara Miller, Rebecca Montgomery, Nicole Sandler, Samantha Schraub, Laureen Toiba and Brianna Wasserstrum of South Florida's Emerald Hills Studio of the Performing Arts comprise the children's ensemble with angelic voices and steadfast professionalism.   Heidi Dean gives a lovingly sung and movingly played performance as Peron's mistress whom Evita evicts. Her 'Another Suitcase, Another Hall,' was lovely and touching. Andrew Rangone, with a great singing voice and looks to match, is a Migaldi from heaven. He is perfect. Philip Hernandez is the best Juan Peron I have ever seen in EVITA. His is a richly played and beautifully voiced Peron. His commanding presence is matched by his charm and the warmth he exudes. This is a Peron we care about, not an easy feat in EVITA. (Litzsinger and Kirk)

In the mold of the emcee in Cabaret and the leading player in Pippin, Che is our singing narrative guide through EVITA. His roles as narrator are many and varied. They range from shticky and vaudeville like to those of boldness and courage. Keith Byron Kirk is a wonderful singer and his is a wonderful Che. In the role that won Mandy Patinkin his Tony award, Mr. Kirk is funny, edgy, and passionate. His energy is as explosive as his singing is grand. Keith Byron Kirk performed with a force and power, that make his, an award worthy performance.

Eva is one of the great diva roles in musical theater. It was immortally created on the London stage by Elaine Paige and on Broadway with Patti LuPone's Tony winning performance. The film of EVITA even won Madonna a Golden Globe award. Let's agree, this is an awfully good part for a musical theater actress. Sarah Litzsinger's Evita starts out nicely and she sure struts her stuff in 'Buenos Aires.' She is a fine actress with a matching nuanced and intelligent singing voice. Her singing is not the force of nature that Ethel Merman was nor does she have the vocal pyrotechnics of a Patti LuPone. There are a few moments in the show when Ms. Litzsinger is actually 'drowned out' by the glorious chorus and the rousing orchestra. No one in this show should sing as powerfully as the actress playing Evita. Her singing must thrill us, rally us, rattle us and shake our theater going selves, as surely as Eva Peron produced feverish frenzy when she addressed her people. Ms. Litzsinger's finest moments are near the end when she suddenly seems to have us truly captivated as the sickened Eva.

At the end of act one, as Eva is singing, bellowing, and proclaiming the greatness of Peron, too often, we simply can't hear her. This can certainly be improved by the sound engineers. Even if not, Ms. Litzsinger will keep getting better and better in this part. Her strength will grow and her youthful endurance will serve her well as she settles and grows into true divahood and the part of Evita. Her performance grew and got more riveting as the show progressed tonight. Sarah Litzinger is, to be sure, an excellent Eva. I suspect in time she will fit flawlessly into Evita's crown.

EVITA's final performance is November 27 at Fort Lauderdale's Broward Center.

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From This Author Beau Higgins

Currently spending his time between New York and Florida, Beau was born to a theatrical family in Brooklyn. He studied drama at the Lee Strasberg (read more...)

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