(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Andrew J. Friedenthal.)
In ” Evita,” composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice crafted a rich, complex, often sarcastic look at the strange bedfellows made by the intersection of media and politics.
In Zach Theatre’s production of the musical, running through Nov. 1, director Nick Demos has created a spectacle that relates this tale through thrilling stage pictures and strongly acted performances.
In the lead role of Eva Perón – frequently known by the affectionate nickname Evita – Madeline Trumble shows her ability to play multiple levels of a complex character. “Evita” tells the story of how actress Eva Duarte became Eva Perón, the beloved (by some) first lady of Argentina in the 1940s/50s.
Trumble aptly displays these major transitions, aptly transforming from scheming ingénue to cool, calculating political figure. In her relationship with husband Juan Perón, played by the stolid and imposing Matthew Redden, we see a relationship akin to House of Cards’ Claire and Frank Underwood, an at times characterized look at a political power couple scheming to get to the top and stay there.
Tremble’s counterpart in the show is Che, the narrator and voice of the Argentine people. Che is more of a narrative device than a character in his own right, embodying Argentina’s conflicted relationship with Evita, and Andrew Foote plays this role to perfection.
Impish and roguish when we first meet him, Foote’s Che provides a slow burn of anger that comes to a boil at certain affecting moments in the play. As with Trumble, Foote is at his strongest not when singing perfectly on-score, but rather when he is allowed to act his emotions through the songs, focusing on character over melody.
The ensemble does a phenomenal job as a Greek (or Argentine, as the case may be) chorus, portraying the various people of Argentina and their relationship to Evita. It is in the large crowd scenes, particularly those involving complex choreography, that Demos shows his strength as a director, and the ensemble show their many talents.
The sheer number of people on stage at times in “Evita” could easily dissolve into a distracting mess, but Demos keeps the cast on point and creates a multitude of stunning stage pictures. In this, he is aided by the talented team of designers and technicians who have created a panoply of gorgeous sets, costumes, and lighting to bring the show to life.
For a show that is ultimately a character study, “Evita” lacks the intimacy that allows audiences to truly get underneath a character’s skin.
As a bombastic spectacle, however, with dynamic performances and stunning visual splendor, Zach Theatre’s “Evita” is both high flying and adored.
“Evita” continues at Zach through Nov. 1 at Zach Theatre. www.zachtheatre.org