I grew up on showtunes. I had hymns memorized before I could spell. I cut my teeth on Broadway songs. My ears could discern a flat or sharp pitch before I could read sheet music.
Lyrics and melody and live performance are in my bloodlines- my grandfather was a Big Band leader, a trumpet player, a music man. He once played a club alongside Fats Domino. My mother was a drum major in college. My uncle played trombone in a symphony recording of Il Trovatore. I played both trumpet and french horn before I quit the high school band. (I was terrified of marching. Never even tried.)
Musicals have always been a major part of my life; a life spent roughly 1,300 miles from The Great White Way. I always kind of wanted to be Sarah Brightman. Or Patti Lupone. Or Bernadette Peters.
When I was growing up, my mother would drive my brother and I to middle Tennessee several times a year. Instead of pop songs, or books on tape, or license plate bingo, she would play bootlegged copies of Broadway shows:
Fiddler on the Roof
The Phantom of the Opera
A Chorus Line
West Side Story
Tell Me on a Sunday
Jesus Christ Superstar
My Fair Lady
A Little Night Music
Porgy and Bess
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
I have loved Evita since before Madonna's turn as Eva Peron, since before "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina" was a discotheque hit. (I've never even seen the film version; I never wanted to spoil the musical that played in my head.)
When The Rep (the awesome Arkansas Repertory Theatre) asked me to review their production of Evita, I could hardly get my fingers typing YES fast enough. (full disclosure: my ticket was comped)
Last Sunday I did something I never imagined I'd be able to do. I sat, all by myself, on the fifth row and witnessed Evita; not on a bumpy bootlegged tape, not on a well-worn and scratched cd, but live and in person.
From the opening scene, The Rep's rendition of Evita was thrilling. If it lacked anything in comparison to the Broadway run it was only in stage square footage. It more than made up for any grand scale in the direction, choreography and nearly pitch-perfect voices of the cast. I was surprised to learn that the orchestra was comprised of only eight members; their strength and timing were fantastic.
Maria Eberline's Evita was wonderful. She has a very strong voice, and was obviously comfortable in the spotlight. Her rendition of "What's New Buenos Aires" and her waltzing duet with Che were her most powerful performances.
I was prepared to love (and, admittedly, loathe) Eva, but I was completely, totally, entirely blown away by Che. David Villella was absolutely incredible. He has a made-for-musicals voice and his mannerisms and stage presence lent an air of brevity to an otherwise dramatic opera. In his bio, it says that Villella was last seen as Rum Tum Tugger in Cats, and I can't think of any other character better suited for his voice and on-stage personality. (Ok, so I might have sent a text message to a friend that might have read "I heart Che.")
My favorite Evita song has always been the mistress' solo, "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" for its simple harmonies nestled into a rather complex score. Katie Emerson (an Arkansas native!) knocked it out of the friggin' park. She absolutely stole the spotlight with her beautiful, pure voice. There is no reason for that girl to have anything less than a lead role ever again. Ever.
I wasn't entirely impressed by Peron or Magaldi, though they were both solid performances.
The ensemble "A New Argentina" was breathtaking, and reminded me of Les Miserables' "At the Barricade," a full-cast rally cry.
The choreography, the direction, the set production... it was all incredible.
I went in very cautiously. Having loved Evita for so long but never seeing it performed live, I had placed the entire show on a very high pedestal. I could not be an objective witness. I had expectations and doubts. As it turned out, all of my doubts were unfounded and my expectations were exceeded.
This may be the most exuberantly adjective-filled post I've ever written, but it is with good reason.
Evita runs until Sunday, October 3rd at The Rep. You need to see it.