By Barry Reszel
This site’s natural predilection in reviewing musical theatre embraces positivity.
We strive to form “a dynamic community for passionate participants and patrons of Chicagoland musical theatre.” When we welcome new voices, they buy into our roles as “reviewers, not critics.” In championing this art form, we strive to remember that ours are impressions and opinions from one person seeing one performance. Our reviewers go into a show expecting it to be good—because that’s the mindset of patrons who buy tickets.
But if ever my own alacrity in this realm should venture toward toxicity, it will happen with Evita. Because as I’ve shared before, she was my first.
It was senior year of high school, 1981, in the balcony of Chicago’s old Shubert (now CIBC) Theatre on Monroe, just a half block off State Street. It was a school field trip with a really cool elective class and teacher, Mass Media in Society with Dr. Jim Zalewski, at Lyons Township High School.
We had lousy seats up in the nosebleeds. But, looking back, perhaps that makes the memory even stronger, the story even better. Either way, it all happened much too quickly, seemingly over just seconds after it began. And yet it never really ended.
I fell in love that day, taking in her every movement in the first national tour following a Tony sweep (including Best Musical) the year before. And I love her still.
But there’s no toxic positivity necessary in this report that Drury Lane’s new staging, courtesy of director-choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge, is a truly thrilling production. Putting her own star-quality nuances into Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s operatic masterpiece, it’s clear Dodge uses the fictionalized telling of Argentine First Lady Eva Peron‘s most interesting life to hint at an examination of populism, political divide and social consciousness today.
Moving the opening “Requiem” scene out of a movie theatre and turning “The Art of the Possible” into a thrilling drum-off are but two brushstrokes from Dodge’s palette. A third is adding an omniscient accordion player, Chicagoland favorite Cory Goodrich, as another set of ever-watching eyes.
Dodge’s entire cast is terrific. No one does it better than the magnificent talent of Richard Bermudez as omniscient narrator Che, loosely based on Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara. Along with gorgeous Michelle Aravena as Eva, who doesn’t miss a note in this most demanding libretto, these two (along with Sean McLaughlin who shines as Juan Perón) lead their multi-talented lovers, mistresses and descamisados through the quickest two hours and 30 minutes imaginable.
That includes a twenty-minute intermission, needed to sort the assemblage of magnificent, ornate costuming designed by Ryan Park. The gorgeous costumes wonderfully complement Michael Schweikardt’s elegant, two-tiered unit set that’s made multi-faceted through Yael Lubetsky’s fine lighting.
The story of small-town actress Eva Peron’s clawing her way to the top of Argentina’s political power structure in the 1940s is well-known in large part because of Lloyd Webber’s iconic treatment. The original Broadway production of Evita won seven 1980 Tonys, including best musical, score and book. A full synopsis and history may be found here.
With first-rate music direction by Valerie Maze, this Drury Lane production happily includes the song, “You Must Love Me,” introduced in 1996’s film adaptation starring Madonna as Eva and Antonio Banderas as Che. Aravena’s lovely rendition leads solo highlights including Bermudez’s, “Oh What a Circus” and “High Flying Adored,” along with Aravena’s gorgeous rendition of the iconic “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”
Patrons throughout this run will be continually thrilled with the vocals and superb dance seen in “Buenos Aires,” “Rainbow Tour” and tear-jerking “Santa Evita.” And Jeff-worthy in its own right is the whole cast number, “And the Money Kept Rolling In,” that brought the house to a long ovation on opening night.
Whether patrons are experiencing Evita for the first time or re-visiting a special memory, this fabulous cast and their backstage compadres make visiting Drury Lane this winter a must. This is a high-flying production deserving to be adored.
Evita runs through March 20th at 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. For tickets or more information, please click here.
Photos by Brett Beiner.