Saturday, November 2, 2013

Review of Evita at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood California


Somehow I have managed to make it this far through life without ever seeing Evita, one of the more popular modern musicals. Well, I remedied this oversight last weekend at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, California.

The Pantages has been a mainstay of Hollywood culture since it opened in 1930. It started as a vaudeville theatre, but it has hosted all manner of shows, operated as a movie theatre, and was even the home of the Academy Award Ceremonies for 10 years. Rumor has it that when Howard Hughes owned the theatre he had his offices on the second floor. Creepy. Anyway, the theatre had a $10 million renovation in 2000, and it is still in marvelous condition. For this show we had seats near the back of the orchestra section, and were able to see and hear everything well. It is a lovely place to see a show, with the added bonus of easy parking (for $10) and plentiful places to dine before or after the show. It is certainly worth the drive…

The plot of Evita is fairly simple. It is the story of Eva, a young woman from the country that used everything she had (in every way possible) to claw her way to the top. This culminated in her marriage to Juan Peron (who would become president), and she became the spiritual leader of Argentina. She died of cancer at the age of 33, and reached a level of sainthood amongst a portion of the populace. This musical provides a decidedly one-sided view of these events, so I would encourage you to do some research on her, as it is quite an amazing story.

This is a wonderfully written show, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and book by Tim Rice, and it holds up well from when it was first produced in 1978. There is very little dialogue that is not sung, but the story still comes across loud and clear. Overall, the musical is very well-regarded, and it has won a trunkload of awards over the years.

The 2013 version of Evita is a touring production, and it is making stops throughout the United States. The creative staff have done a wonderful job, with Michael Grandage taking the directorial role, Rob Ashford as choreographer, Christopher Oram with scenic and costume design and Neil Austin with the lighting. They took all of these elements and created a very tight show.

Caroline Bowman took the lead, and Eva has to be one of the most difficult musical theatre roles ever. There is a metric ton of stage time, and most of it is spent singing complicated lyrics. She played the role well, as she had the chops to pull off the singing, dancing and acting. Che (the narrator) was played by Josh Young, and though this character is like tape that covers over significant holes in the story, he did a very nice job with it. And lastly, Sean MacLaughlin played Juan Peron, which was a surprisingly small role for the president to take.

Over 20 cast members were in the ensemble, and they helped make the show for me. They were great singers and dancers, and a good chorus is the essential glue that holds a show together.

William Waldrop conducted the 17-piece orchestra that was mostly staffed with local musicians. Keyboards were used extensively to help make the mood in many of the scenes, and overall the orchestra did a fabulous job. There were no miscues or odd dynamics that drew away from the onstage action, which is just as it should be.

Evita’s sets are first-rate, and in current style are relatively simple and are repurposed to achieve different effects and scenes. I especially liked the building fa├žade that could be made into an indoor or outdoor scene simply by moving it, rearranging the chandeliers and re-lighting it. Also, the conversion of Eva’s steamer trunks into a dais and her hospital bed into a coffin were quite clever. They were able to provide historical newsreel footage concurrently with some of the scenes, which could have been confusing, but actually worked out very well.

The lighting was well-done and cemented the mood for many of the scenes. And for a change I have nothing to complain about in the sound department. It was well-mixed, and I had no trouble focusing on and differentiating the music or vocals.

I heartily recommend that you get out and see Evita while it is still in Los Angeles, so you had better hurry before the show closes on November 10. And if you live out of the area, this is just the start of their tour, and they will be travelling all over the country before they finish up in June 2014 in South Carolina.


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