A little over 40 years ago, the famous musical theatre writing duo Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice opened a new show on Broadway. The sung through musical would later go on to win numerous Tony awards, launch the career of Broadway legend Patti LuPone, and spawn numerous national and international tours as well as a 2012 revival. It set the bar for what a bio musical could and can be with original music, a compelling story and underlying themes that are relevant no matter what time the story is being told.
The story of Evita is a classic rags to riches story about the former First Lady of Argentina, Eva Perón. Beginning her life as a small town girl, she climbed the entertainment industry from a radio actress to the film and eventually meeting her then husband, General Juan Perón. As she continued to rise in popularity she helped improve the lives of countless of citizens before dying at the young age of 33 and solidifying her place in Argentinian history as the “Spiritual Leader of the Nation.”
Deciding to produce Evita is no easy task. The show is sung through the entire time and the three leads must all be extremely talented performers due to the vocal range and depth of these humans as characters. Let me be the first to say that this is by far one of, if not the best productions I’ve ever seen at Lyric Arts.
The set, designed by Chad Van Kekerix, is versatile and allows the actors to play a multitude of levels from the balcony to the stairs accompanied by a large scale painting of Eva. The farthest downstage part of the set includes a lifted step for various scene transitions however the lighting did not fully capture the faces of the performers when on this piece. The lighting, also designed by Kekerix, was eerie and ominous at times like during the arrival of Eva’s coffin being rolled down center stage.
That moment was also accompanied by Webber’s stunning and majestic score played by a small but powerful five part orchestra directed by Louis Berg-Arnold who also played the keyboard. Two things I absolutely have to commend this orchestra on was the pacing that mirrored the fast paced of the original as well as the use of an electric guitar, something that was used in the 2012 revival. The pacing, I’m sure partially due to McNabb’s brilliant direction as well, keeps this show from dragging which can be a trap for many sung-through productions.
Could McNabb have chosen a more superb cast? The answer is no because this is one of the strongest ensembles I’ve ever seen at Lyric Arts from a vocal stand point. I could have thought the ensemble was double the size if my eyes were closed during that first moment they all sang collectively during “Requiem For Evita.” It was powerful and strong.
As mentioned earlier, Evita is not an easy show to produce due to needing a strong group of performers, especially for the leading three being Eva, Juan and Ché. Starting with Jake Sung-Guk Sullivan who played Juan Perón, he really captured the authority yet loving side of the former President. Sullivan sings through this score with a stunningly rich and low tone. As a duo, Sullivan and Kiko Laureano, who plays Eva, strongly complimented each other. Many people believe that Eva was truly a political mastermind behind closed doors and they brought that to life in making it look like Juan was fully and completely in charge.
Ché is brought to life as the “everyman” by Adan Varela. Their is a lot of opinions out there on how Ché should be played; whether it’s the original Broadway production as the revolutionist Che Guevara or as the “everyman” which was the way the revival and concept album wrote him as. By doing this, I feel that Varela was able to play with the character more, making him truly his own which he did impeccably. Varela really tells the story with so much charisma, but not just as a typical narrator figure. It’s the way he found those nuances within the lyrics, the music and the character that gives his Ché a true spark of realism.
There is truly no show without a completely powerhouse of an actress to play Eva and Lyric Arts found one. New to me, Kiko Laureano is that diamond to play the role. From the minute she appeared on stage, we couldn’t take our eyes off of her with a demanding stage presence. Her stamina to act, dance and sing through out the night was outstanding. Laureano shows the ambition that Eva had in her eyes without even saying a word while also showing off the journey Eva goes through.
A true test for me when watching this show is seeing how an actress takes on the song “A New Argentina” in which Eva sings probably the highest and hardest note to hit. It becomes easy for many to just yell the lyrics versus actually belting them out however Laureano breezed through it, hitting the notes perfectly without forcing it. She also, along with truly the whole cast, hits every syllable and every constant which is very important in a sung through musical. She truly owns this role.
Lyric Arts production of Evita is quite possibly one of the most ambitious productions they’ve done to date and it spectacular. Take it from someone who has repeatedly said it’s one of his top three favorite musicals ever. Take this from someone who knows this musical from the first note to the last. Take it from someone who studied it his senior year of college and wrote a 15 page research paper on it, this production should be cemented as a milestone for Lyric Arts in producing quality musical theatre.
Evita plays at Lyric Arts now through April 14.