Broadway-quality theater found in L.A. with ‘Evita’

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Argentina’s unforgettable Eva Peron may be best known in the United States from the 1996 movie “Evita,” in which Madonna portrayed Peron.

While the movie won many awards, including an Academy Award, it is incomparable to the live theater version of the musical.

The tale begins in a crowded cinema, where the death of the people’s beloved “spiritual leader,” Eva Peron, is announced. The crowd’s faces quickly turn from expressions to grief-stricken. The characters in the crowd mimic similar expressions from citizens in South America who heard of Peron’s death the day it actually occurred in 1952.

Placed above the characters is a large screen, where actual footage from that time period appears.

During the opening act, the screen was used to show actual images of people hearing the shocking news when “the spiritual leader of the nation entered immortality.”

The screen helps recreate events throughout the musical, which allows the viewer to understand the true magnitude of Eva Peron.

Watching the characters reenact events that actually took place, while seeing pictures on the large screen, is surprisingly not distracting, and is rather appealing.

In the scene following the announcement of Peron’s death, the character of Che Guevara is introduced. Bradley Dean, who plays Che, does a superb job, using a mocking tone to reveal that Peron was not all “she was cracked up to be.”

On stage, a flashback occurs, showing Peron before her death. It is in this scene that the audience learns the true beginnings of Eva Peron.

Kathy Voytko, who plays Peron, allowed her character to become two different people throughout the show. In the beginning, she plays a promiscuous actress, who is caught up in being famous. After meeting Juan Peron, she gets in touch with her political side, mainly because she realizes there is more fame in politics than in acting. While showing one type of character in front of citizens, she plays her true self behind closed doors.

While Voytko was amazing, there were times when her voice was not strong enough to overpower the band ensemble, which left the audience questioning what she had been singing. Also, even though Voytko was the primary star of the production, it seemed as if Dean (Che) had the lead.

Dean, whose character is apparent from the second he steps foot on stage, is used throughout the play to help the audience to find fault and never get caught up in Peron’s character. Dean’s costume, choreography and lyrics, along with the way he plays his character, makes the viewer see Peron through his eyes, rather than through those of every other citizen that worshipped her.

The lyrics, by Tim Rice, are easy to follow, and flow perfectly with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score. One can be swept away by the emotion of the composition. Adding to the scene are the costumes, which were created by Tim O’Brien. The colors and exquisiteness of the costumes allow one to feel as if he or she was plopped right in the middle of Argentina.

The choreography by Larry Fuller has an amazing way of not bogging down with too many moves, and is masterfully done, never creating a dull moment. When the audience is unable to catch-up with the lyrics, the choreography tells the story beautifully.

Perhaps the biggest treat in “Evita” is the collaboration of Larry Fuller with Hal Prince, the original director. Prince helped recreate the Tony award winning production, which was originally brought to the stage in 1976 on Broadway.

The two-week limited rendition of “Evita” is currently playing at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Upon leaving Los Angeles, “Evita” will continue its national tour.

It is one production that should not be missed. It is only once in awhile that one does not have to travel to the streets of New York to get the true Broadway feeling.