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Theater Review: Political Powerhouse, 'Evita' A Flawless Opener For ACT

Published: October 19, 2018 at 05:20 pm

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RIDGEFIELD — ACT of Connecticut is featuring Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Evita as its season opener. This pared down rendition loses not a moment of emotional and musical impact. The small stage and minimal set offer a stark background for this highly charged political powerhouse.

At the center of the story is Eva Peron (played by Julia Estrada). Eva has arrived. She survived a childhood spent in Argentina’s poorest of slums to became a B-grade actress with a wild side who happened upon the wealthy and ambitious Juan Peron (Ryan K. Bailer).

Peron is seduced by Eva’s beauty and elegance. He dismisses his current mistress (Marlena Lopez Hilderley) with a kiss and marries Eva as his own star is on the rise. The young and stunning Eva becomes Argentina’s First Lady.

Eva’s service to her country is received adoringly by the peasant masses. She empathizes and legislates on their behalf.

Conversely, the Perons are reviled by those who see them as power mongers with authoritarian objectives. Interactions with the populace are portrayed in large musical numbers representing the chants and praise proffered to the gorgeous and admired couple.

Evita’s very existence is tracked, monitored, and mocked by Che (Angel Lozada), a revolutionary presence at her every public and private moment.

Julian Alverez offers a solid portrayal of Magaldi, an earlier love of Eva and the man who took her to Buenos Aires, where the trajectory of her life became irretrievably altered.

There is a large and very effective ensemble cast consisting of fine actors, singers, and dancers: Paul Aguirre, Alex Caldwell, Morgan Harrison, Jordan Fife Hunt, Alison Mahoney, Daniel Marhelko, Monica Ramirez, Erick Sanchez-Canahuate, Mia Scarpa, Daniel Schwait, and Kyle White. They represent the crowds as well as the military and various other characters.

In the lead role, Ms Estrada gains strength as momentum builds. By the time her character dons the blond, she is a force. Her energy and voice rise to the occasion of her performance of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” Ms Estrada gives this iconic number her all, and the result is moving.

Her rendition of “You Must Love Me” so beautifully portrays her vulnerability. Ms Estrada reveals a deep wellspring of emotion as her character deteriorates.

Playing her devoted husband, Ryan K. Bailer is ideal. He is subdued and strong. His commitment to his lovely wife is well-played as he relays his adoration in song. His voice is low and steady.

The role of Che is somewhat staid in the hands of Mr Lozada. He is an adept performer who has chosen a low-key approach to this character. He is thorough and studied in this performance.

Marlena Lopez Hilderly gives the audience one of the richest moments of this production with her performance of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.” She is heartbreaking, with a lovely voice, as she sings that “anyone can hurt me, and they do.”

The ensemble cast performs flawlessly. Every member brings a wealth of musical theater talent and expertise. Choreographer Charlie Sutton proves his skill with superb dance numbers perfectly executed.

Director Daniel C. Levine maximizes his minimal set with creative use of several pieces; the musical chairs played in the military number “The Art of the Possible” is clever and well done.

Costume Designer Brenda Phelps did a wonderful job of authenticating the time and place with her art.

Evita is a popular musical with a compelling story, memorable music, and vivid characters. This production leaves nothing on the mat; it gives every bit of its energy and enthusiasm to a rapt audience. ACT has served up another winner.

Originally scheduled for a limited run to conclude on October 28, ACT of Connecticut has extended its run of Evita to November. Performances continue to November 11.

Performances are Thursday through Saturday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Please note the Saturday, November 3 matinee is sold out.

Tickets and additional information are available by visiting actofct.org or calling 475-215-5433. The theater is at 36 Old Quarry Road in Ridgefield.

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