evita songIt is time for third show at Timber Lake Playhouse already as the excitement builds for musical rock opera, “Evita.” The theatre in the boonies of Mt. Carroll is very much alive and well in Season 56 as audiences gather where “the stars shine brighter deep in the woods…” Who needs the city?
“Evita” is an Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice collaboration in the early ‘70s, though initially, Webber could not be convinced to take on the project and instead developed a different show that turned out to be a dismal failure. So he returned to Rice to embark upon “Evita.” It would be just another lesson about the bumps and bruises along the road of creativity. Nothing is smooth sailing.
It is a rock opera, meaning that from curtain to curtain is song to song, no dialogue, and a contemporary cousin of Italian opera.
The show is directed and choreographed by artistic director James Beaudry, an accomplished theatre presence here and far. Other than Jeff Award nominations (“Heathers the Musical” and “Murder Ballad”), his list of Chicago successes are extensive including, “Aspects of Love,” “Pump Boys & Dinettes,” “Lucky Stiff,” and “Triumph of Love.”
But Beaudry can best be remembered for his signature energy here at TLP with his work in “Chicago,” “Cats,” and “Sunset Boulevard” among many other shows. That would include “Singin’ in the Rain” where the first row in the audience was provided with programs and raincoats.
About “Evita,” Beaudry notes that the story represents the power struggles of Argentina that tries to balance its moral compass with economic struggles, with the resulting tension between the classes of people. He also observes that the musical is an atypical subject, but most relevant in today’s political climate. The story of one woman, Eva Peron, seems to be entangled with the story of a country.
About the subtle illustration of power, the use of blocking where the actor’s back is to the audience is frequently used in this show. Peron herself faces an imaginary crowd with her back downstage leading the eye upstage and beyond empowering whatever it is that we seek.
This production uses the multi-media approach, often unpopular because the recipe of video mixed with live actors is more of a distraction than the unified arc of flow. But. The recipe works in this show. The black-and-white images above may represent how we have always learned history from the textbooks in school. A dead subject, dry.
The contrast of real people in living color below, of real people in real time, tell a real story, as if to rise from the dead, dry subject of the textbooks. Lighting design by Riley Wood of the real people accentuates that contrast like fresh sprouts of the earth, no matter what country.
Special guest Meslissa Weyn as Eva Peron is an extraordinary lead. Her TLP background covers much vocal repertoire including “Gaslight,” “Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and “Les Miserables.” She captures the strength and vulnerability of Peron in “Evita” as her character rose from the bottom up, at each stage gathering fans and foes. Famous or infamous, Weyn wears the lovely soprano voice strong as needed, weak as needed.
Character Che Guevara is the glue, the segue, and the beating heart of the People as the ups and downs, scandals and rumors, divide and conquer all involved. Christopher Kelley eases into the role bringing even more talent than his previous appearance in “Mary Poppins,” where he was “dropped from ballet heaven…” It seems that his superb voice was also dropped from the same heaven.
Kieran McCabe takes on the saucy flavor of Latin lover role as Migaldi, the heartthrob in the early days of Eva Peron. Or at least allegedly so. Though a mere supporting actor in the grand scheme of her brief life, McCabe captures the essence of an image, a dream, and perhaps a shoulder-shimmering ideal that we all can relate to for a moment in our life.
At the immediate entrance of special guest performer Erik Dohner as Juan Peron, the air changes where only a strong baritone voice can fill. Not just any timbre of the vocal range, but the fullness and strength that indicates there is power, a richness of the upper crust.
Notable Emilie Kouatchou in the TLP resident company as Peron’s Mistress portrays a poignant passage in “Another Suitcase In Another Hall,” that she shares with Eva and the men. Also engaging is the work of Nick Drake whose moves and tangos draw the eye.
The entire cast, whether populated by guests or resident company members, seem astonishingly superior about vocal abilities this season. In the style of rock opera, the singers slip and slide between major and minor keys like a silk glove. At the musical direction of Cindy Blanc, the singers are well-tutored to excel.
Elsewhere in the cast and to fully appreciate are Samantha Bonzi, Elya Faye Bottiger, Grant Alexander Brown, Sam Columbus, Kiersten Frumkin (also understudy for Eva Peron, a heavy responsibility), Molly Hernandez, Areo Keller (dance captain), Marcus Martin, Enrique Miguel (also understudy to Che) Charles Mayhew Miller, Hope Schafer, Ken Singleton, and Nissi Shalome Smith.
Don’t miss “Evita’ that opens tonight June 29 and runs through July 9, including four 2 p.m. matinees. Evening shows at 7:30 p.m. (No shows July 3 and 4.) The boonies theatre is a hop, skip and a jump to 8215 Black Oak Road, Mount Carroll. Call the box office at (815) 244-2035 or www.timberlakeplayhouse.org for tickets, group rates and more information. Don’t miss the cash bar before and during the show! Some adult themed language included in the show.