Lead actors bring characters to life in 'Evita'"Evita" is no fairy tale, though it has royalty. And it's no romantic comedy, though there is love — adulation, even — and there are moments of humor.
By: Ruth Nerhaugen, The Republican Eagle
"Evita" is no fairy tale, though it has royalty. And it's no romantic comedy, though there is love — adulation, even — and there are moments of humor.
This year's Red Wing High School spring musical, which had its final dress rehearsal on Wednesday before a small crowd of senior citizens at the Sheldon Theatre — tells the story of a real-life woman and the tremendous impact she had on a country, Argentina, and its people.
Of course, since Eva Peron's story is told by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, "Evita" is a blend of history and interpretation.
The characters who emerge in the telling of that story are fascinating people.
Anne Richardson plays Eva Peron, an imperfect woman — but one who is clearly shaped by the experiences of her childhood and youth. She grows from a wide-eyed, ambitious teenager anxious to make her mark in the world to a woman who captures the heart of an entire country, although the aristocrats and her husband's generals never really accept her.
Richardson's biggest strength is … her strength. The role of Eva Peron is demanding on her as an actress, a singer and a dancer.
Because nearly every word of dialogue is sung, clarity of expression and diction are essential to understanding what's happening. She handles it all with confidence.
Aaron Bartz, cast as the revolutionary Che, is equally accomplished in that respect, and others. His role is not a simple one. In a sense, he does not even exist, except to inject a down-to-earth point of view into the proceedings. While the actors are connecting with each other, Che reaches out to the audience. And he connects.
The third character in this unusual triangle is Juan Peron, played by Samuel Brady. His also is a solid protrayal of a character who draws at least part of his strength from Evita.
The cast is huge, to the point that choreography must be absolutely precise to prevent chaos during production numbers.
But two other characters also stand out — Magaldi, played by Ben Dulak, and Peron's ex-mistress, played by Anna Hennessy. Their solos are a treat to listen to, and to watch. The staging is most eye-catching, especially during Hennessy's moment in the spotlight.
"Evita" may be the most challenging musical undertaken by Red Wing High students, at least in terms of reaching out to the audience.
On the plus side, the program contains a fairly detailed explanation of the people and the events. It's well worth the effort to arrive a few minutes early and read through the story so that as the story unfolds, you won't be caught wondering what's happening.
A lot of popular musicals incorporate grim historical facts — the Nazis in Austria in "The Sound of Music" and the role of racism in "South Pacific" spring to mind. But "Evita" doesn't have little kids running around or lighthearted men in grass skirts. The only really familiar song is "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" — a song that holds much more meaning to the viewer when the curtain falls.
"Evita" also challenges the orchestra, which is led by Dan Marrs. Instead of striking up the band for a production number, he keeps the group on task throughout the two-hour production. Mikkel Gardner gets credit for his work as vocal director, and Amy Field created choreography on a "rake" stage that is not commonly seen, but is effectively used in this production, which employs very little in the way of set or props.
Costumes also deserve mention. All of the characters, from peasants to aristocrats to troops, convey appropriate images of the era and their status in life.
Once again, the Sheldon's executive director, Sean Dowse, has managed to bring out the best in a large group of young people, to encourage their talents and direct their energies, to mold them into an impressive cast.
"Evita" opens at 7 tonight, then plays again at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $19 for adults, $12 for students. Call (651) 388-8700 or go online to www.sheldontheatre.org.