Review: May River Theatre's "Evita" performance has it all

Special to Lowcountry CurrentMay 23, 2012 

This is not your mama's "Evita."

The May River Theatre Co. production of this award-winning, crowd-pleasing musical -- with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber -- has been reimagined, reworked, plotted and massaged by director Wendall MacNeal, who comes to the Bluffton theater with a long career in stage, most recently at the Sun City Community Theatre.

The musical, which was first produced on Broadway in 1979, is on stage at Bluffton Town Hall's Ulmer Auditorium from Friday to Sunday.

The local production resonates and offers moments that completely dazzle. With choreography by Jodie Dupuis, "Evita" perfectly involves the cast, spotlights a particularly amazing chorus, fills the stage with tons of emotional playback and totally captures the intricacies of this Tony Award-winning piece.

This knockout musical drama offers a glance at Juan Peron's rise to power in Argentina and the power of the charismatic and glamorous Eva Peron -- from her earliest beginnings in the Argentinian slums to her residence at the presidential mansion. She is a product of her thoughts, and through her ambition and her need for power she fashions her ascension. We meet her when she is young, idealistic and sympathetic. And we watch her transformation to first lady, and all that it could offer her. Then, tragically, we are present for her death at 33.

Even at her passing, we sense her alienation.

After a series of narrative updates and a glance at the flickering images on a motion picture screen at the left of the auditorium, we are all transported, brought up to speed and are anticipating this carefully spun presentation of "Evita."

In the local production, we are so fortunate to share in the passionate, carefully delivered, intellectually strong performances of Livie Schwerdt as Evita; Pete Zeleznik as Peron; Cara Clanton as Peron's mistress; Daniel Cort as Che; and Mike Cofield as Magaldi. We witness the beguiling, emotional, then elegant, then tragic Evita, through Schwerdt; we feel the strong, military strength and discipline of Peron through Zeleznik; we respond to the finely honed, distinctive delivery and energy levels of Che by way of Cort; we sense the fragile grace of Peron's mistress, through Clanton; and process the strong, presence of Magaldi through Cofield.

Visually dynamic and viscerally dramatic, the production was simply over the top. In many ways, "Evita" felt like an opera. There were knockout performances of our favorites: "On the Night of a Thousand Stars," "Buenos Aires," "Another Suitcase" or "A New Argentina." What impressive, strongly engaging music.

Much of what makes the entire score so memorable is that the production offers an enormously broad spectrum of musical formats, styles and possibilities. Think of "Requiem for Evita" or the unforgettable "High Flying, Adored."

"Evita" at the May River Theatre has it all.

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