Saturday, April 18, 2015

Evita at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

Published in The News Tribune, April 17, 2015

Juan Perόn (Jonathan Bill) and Eva (Alena Menefee). Photo by Kat Dollarhide
Tacoma Musical Playhouse’s production of “Evita” is outstanding in every way. The set by Bruce Haasl and lighting by John Chenault are stunning, and the lead actors are outstanding. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, “Evita” captured seven Tony Awards when it played on Broadway.

“Evita” is the story of Eva Perόn (Alena Menefee), an aspiring actress and singer who sleeps her way to fame and fortune, marries Argentine President Juan Perόn (Jonathan Bill), is seen by the people as a hero and a saint, and dies tragically and young.

The mood is set majestically with an amazing opening number, “Requiem,” performed by the ensemble in front of and behind scrims with projected video of the real Eva and her compatriots. The blend of action, music, video imagery and lighting in this and the followings scenes, “Oh What a Circus” and “On the Night of a Thousand Stars,” are musical theater at its finest. “Requiem” tells of the tragic death of Eva. In “Oh What a Circus” we meet Che (Rafe Wadleigh), the “Everyman” narrator who is cynical, angry, and seemingly the only person who can see through the political posturing. The third of these opening scenes takes place when Che says, quite snidely, that Eva met a tango singer, and we open on a club where Augustin Magaldi (Jeff Barehand) is singing. The opening of this scene is a visual marvel that looks like a baroque painting, and Barehand sings terrifically.

Eva Perόn (Alena Menefee) and Che (Rafe Wadleigh). Photo by Kat Dollarhide
From this auspicious beginning, the cast takes us through the stormy life of Eva Perόn. It is anything but light musical comedy. It is highly dramatic with dark scenes sparked by moments of subtle but sparkling humor and music with Latin and jazz influences. The oh-so-subtle comic relief comes primarily from sly expressions from Che, and from small but precious bits in the background by ensemble actor Samantha Camp and Francesca Guecia, whose one moments to step out of the background and into the spotlight comes when she solos superbly on the song “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” as Juan Peron’s mistress.

Menefee has a strong and lovely voice and is expressive as Eva. Bill presents a strong if somewhat stiff Juan Perόn and has a deep and resonant voice. Wadleigh absolutely steals the show. He has a commanding presence, a range of moves and expressions that nail the characters, and he sings with clarity and power.

The most famous song in the show is “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” which Menefee sings beautifully from a balcony. One of the most delightful songs is “Waltz for Eva and Che,” which is a kind of musical standoff or duel or tango between Menefee and Wadleigh. Other outstanding songs are “You Must Love Me” and “Lament,” both solos by Menefee.
This may well be THE hit musical of the season in South Puget Sound. I definitely recommend it.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through Dec. 21, Saturday matinees April 25 and May 3 at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $20-$29
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

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