Patrick Palamara must have been sobbing with relief when Cynthia Dougherty, Jeff Way and Leon S. Zionts walked into auditions for Evita. Palamara's the director of the Stage 62 production of this Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical and he had to have been praying for the theater gods to send him performers who could handle the roles.
And the gods heardeth.
This 1979 musical finds a fictionalized version of Che Guevara telling the true story of Eva Duarte's rise from illegitimate nobody to wife of Argentine president Juan Peron and, by the time of her death at 33, a near-saint.
The show is a mammoth piece of stage work, featuring a sung-through score, big ensemble numbers and intimate two-hander scenes, with all the attendant sets, props and costumes. And since it's music by Lloyd Webber, you know it's going to take powerhouse performers to make it interesting.
Palamara, navigating limitations of financial and artistic resources, has crafted a sturdy production: This isn't a definitive Evita but, on the other hand, nobody involved has done less than credible work.
Angelina DeVengencie's choreography makes good use of what's available; costumer Patty Folmer achieves a style and period on stage; and the set and lighting design do what's needed to get us from beginning to end.
I cheer conductor Robert Stull and his orchestra for providing such a rich, textured sound and making this production seem so much bigger than it really is.
And plaudits go to Robin Hawbaker and Becki Toth, the co-musical directors, who have brought out the best in both the large ensemble and Lloyd Webber's music — neither of which could have been easy.
With their beautiful voices, Ryan Patrick Kearney and Anna Gergerich are exceptional as Magaldi and the Mistress. But those are two supporting roles in a show that, when all's said and done, is really an exercise for three actors: Dougherty as Evita, Way as Che, and Zionts as Peron. They're such unbelievably great singers you spend most of the evening expecting at least one off note, and it never comes. Listening to them perform is like watching a high-wire act — a breathless and utterly astonishing experience.