“Evita” Dazzles And Casts Its Magic Spell At The Opening Of Season 52 At The Rep

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The iconic balcony scene as Eva encourages her following, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Having seen “Evita” probably at least eight or nine times, I was looking forward to what the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis would do to impress a crowd that has also probably seen the show multiple times. They do not disappoint. The whirlwind that was the life of Eva Peron travels at break neck speed with dazzling performances, costumes and set design all sweeping across the Rep stage in the capable hands of director Rob Ruggiero.

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Michelle Aravena as Eva Duarte finally reaches her first goal in “Buenos Aries” in “Evita” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Michelle Aravena brings a strong performance to the First Lady of Argentina as she dances, sings and brings the proper devious flirtation to Eva Duarte Peron. The one quibble I had was with her diction in certain numbers. This is a very difficult role as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice have given the lady some tight, compact lyrics and a lot of the numbers are almost shouted rather than sung. Ms. Aravena, however brings the proper pathos (even if it’s insincere on the part of the character) to the show’s biggest number, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.”

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Sean MacLaughlin as Peron and Michelle Aravena as Eva in “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You” in the Rep’s production of “Evita.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

As her eventual husband, Juan Peron, Sean MacLaughlin is a real powerhouse bringing weariness to the role and you get the feeling that, without Eva, he wouldn’t have reached the heights he did- because she wanted to reach even higher. Although I’ve seen the “hand to hand” combat in several productions during the effective “Art Of The Possible” number, I miss the original choreography of the rocking chair version of musical chairs. But choreographer Gustavo Zajac has added a nice Latin twist with the Argentine Tango flick kicks added to the grapple for power.

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Pepe Nufrio in a powerful performance as Che in “Evita” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

The most charismatic performer in “Evita” is always the character of Che. Though he’s an anachronistic character- out of place in the time of Eva Peron- he shows the disdain so many people felt for both Juan and especially Eva at the time. Pepe Nufrio is an outstanding Che as he serves as narrator and travels in and out of the action as Eva becomes Santa Evita. His powerful singing voice and his ability to pop up everywhere (even in the audience) makes him a delightful character to watch and listen to. Although not as angry as the original- Mandy Patinkin (who is EVER as angry as Mandy?)- costumer Alejo Vietti has chosen to even do away with the traditional Army greens and tone him down even further with a more casual- almost preppy- wear for Che. It works.

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Nicolas Davila as the hapless Magaldi during the Rep’s production of “Evita.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Rounding out the major cast are Nicolas Davila as the tacky Magaldi who becomes the first person to be seduced by Eva’s predatory ways. He’s a fine singer and handles the jilted lover properly. Also, a fine job by Peron’s jilted lover, Shea Gomez. Her rendition of “Evita’s” most haunting number, “Another Suitcase In Another Hall” is stunning. A real treat is the heavy Latino cast in this production of “Evita,” both in major roles and in the ensemble.

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Sean MacLaughlin as Peron and Michelle Aravena as Eva as the two are headed for Argentinian autocracy in “Evita” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

As I said, the brilliant choreography of Gustavo Zajac makes for an exciting look for this production. The large chorus whirls around the Rep stage with the exciting music of the show as a backdrop. Music direction is by Charlie Alterman with a great sound from the true orchestra pit and a nod to Mariana Parma as the tango consultant which is put to good use in several numbers. And Rob Ruggiero has directed with perfection- powering through the story and keeping the action moving.

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Pepe Nufrio backed up by soldiers and the elite above him on the balcony during the Rep’s production of “Evita.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

Luke Cantarella has provided another marvelous set design along with the added projections which always are an important part of this show. The patina-like backdrop of Eva’s bust, as if it is in the middle of an Argentinian boulevard, dominates with the overhead balconies that often come into play and then the effective use of the turntable on the stage all combine for a dynamic look. Already mentioned is the wonderful work of costume designer Alejo Vietti which provides a colorful splash throughout the production and John Lasiter’s lights enhance the overall effect.

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Another iconic moment in the Rep’s “Evita” is the Act I finale, “A New Argentina.” Photo: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.

“Evita” just whizzes by with a few cuts but nothing drastic and leaves us with a great feeling that we’ve seen yet another solid production of this popular Lloyd Webber show. Believe me, I’ve seen a few less than stellar productions. Visit the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis during the final season under the Artistic Direction of the brilliant Steve Woolf. “Evita” runs through September 30th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.

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