An earnest production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Evita" kicks off Lake City Playhouse's 50th season. Heart, humor, and strong vocal performances set the bar high for the shows that will follow it.
"Evita" is a musical based on the life of Eva Peron, the second wife of former Argentine president Juan Peron. Eva's journey from rags to riches, her work with the poor, her glamor, and her death at age 33 in 1952 made her an icon. Despite accusations that the Perons were fascists, some have called Evita - Spanish for "little Eva" - a saint.
Abbey Crawford's directing strength lies in her ability to capitalize on the singing talent of her cast, which, coupled with Carolyn Jess' music direction, drew out the heart of the music.
Coeur d'Alene native Alyssa Day fills the title role, following the footsteps of Elaine Paige, Patti LuPone, and even Madonna. On opening night, her angelic voice proved she's up to the task. In the beginning, Day seemed too nice, lacking the grit a woman who climbed her way to statesmanship would have. That fire emerged in the second act, however, as Evita fought for her husband's ideals as well as her life.
Kent Kimball portrayed Juan Peron as a husband who admired his wife. In a sweet and sincere performance of "She Is a Diamond," Kimball sang that Eva is a diamond, the hardest kind of stone.
That sincerity led to the show's most genuine and compelling moment, when Peron confronted Eva with the fact that her "little body is slowing down." The truth showed in Day's face as Eva stepped to the microphone for her final broadcast. The moment was sealed by an actual recording of Eva's tearful - and gripping - last message to her people.
Evita's story was told by another Argentine icon, Che Guervera, played by Todd Kehne. While the strength of Kehne's vocals wasn't consistent, he had a strong rapport with the audience and had great comic timing by which he deftly delivered Che's satirical commentary.
Dan McKeever, as Magaldi, was a standout who gave a humorous rendition of "On This Night of 1,000 Stars." His flawless, booming voice oozed both charm and conceit.
The chorus, including Liberty Harris, Amy Schoedel, Katrina Heath, Ben Bartels, and others, blended well and showed its range in sardonic numbers like "The Actress Hasn't Learned" and the powerful "A New Argentina."
Transitions between scenes were smooth, but the choreography seemed less polished, with dancers running into each other occasionally. Yet, the power of "Evita" lies in Webber's music, Tim Rice's lyrics, and the strength of the characters.
While this musical is not the fun-loving type, it beautifully portrays the drive and heart of a woman who is said to have been beloved by many people. It ends just as it begins, somberly and thoughtfully and with Che's statement of how Evita's tomb was uncompleted. It all left us wanting to know more.
"Evita" plays through Oct. 10.
Sandra Hosking, a Spokane-Coeur d'Alene area college instructor and freelance journalist, is a longtime member of the theater community and playwright whose works have been performed across the U.S. and internationally.