Review: ‘Evita’ at Olney Theatre Center

Evita, the Tony Award-winning musical, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, is now playing at Olney Theatre Center. The brilliance of the production is due to the collaborative talents of Director Will Davis, Choreographer Christopher D’Amboise, and Musical Director Christopher Youstra.

Rachel Zampelli (Eva) and Robert Ariza (Che) Photo by Stan Barouh.

Rachel Zampelli (Eva) and Robert Ariza (Che) Photo by Stan Barouh.

Evita is a rags-to-riches story about Eva Peron, who leaves her poverty-filled existence for the bright-lights of Buenos Aires, and eventually finds her way into the arms of Juan Perón. Olney Theatre’s production is fast-paced with lively music and choreography that exudes anger, passion, and sadness.

I wholeheartedly agree with what is on their website, “Evita will stun and delight in this intimate version of the musical that ensures you hear every note and feel every heartbeat.”

Before the first note is sung, Che (Robert Ariza) enters the theater, and it is so silent one could hear a pin drop. He gazes at the audience, examines the war-torn building, and then introduces the audience to the fascinating and checkered career of Eva Perón.

Ariza sings the chilling, intense “Requiem” in a deep, rich voice, joined by Juan Perón. (Nick Duckert)  Ariza sarcastically describes the ironies of Eva Peron’s life in “Oh What a Circus.” Ariza’s Che loathes Evita, as is clear from his clenched teeth, tense stance, and snake-like eyes.

Augustin Magaldi (Jonathan Atkinson) leads with a tender, affecting “On This Night of a Thousand Stars.” He warns her of the dangers of urban life in, “Eva and Magaldi/Eva Beware of the City.”

However, Eva Perón (Rachel Zampelli) has her hopes set on the glitz and glamour of, “Buenos Aires,” one of the liveliest numbers with the full ensemble. Zampelli’s voice infuses the theater with emotion. Zampelli shares a sultry duet with Juan (Nick Duckert) as they tango at the “Charity Concert” and then Eva and Juan proclaim to each other, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You.”

Duckert’s vocal performance is soft and lyrical, yet commanding. Duckert plays Perón conservatively, but with charisma and charm.

Eva replaces Perón’s mistress (the vocally gifted Jamie Eacker). There is a brilliant quality to Eacker’s singing as she immerses herself in “Another suitcase in Another Hall/So What Happens Now?” As the mistress, Eacker exudes empathy and uncertainty, since she does not know what her life will bring.

The entire cast joins Zampelli, Ariza, and Duckert in “Peron’s Latest Flame,” a dig at Juan and Eva’s romance. The ensemble, as The People of Argentina, are precise, disciplined, and exciting. When Juan Peron and Eva have given the lower classes just what they need, “A New Argentina,” the citizens are filled with new hope. It’s thrillingly staged.

“On the Balcony of the Casa Rosada (Part 1),” there are moments that take your breath away. Zampelli does just that in “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” She gently sings to her descamisados and her voice passionately rises. As she raises her arms, her green iridescent dress shimmering in the light, with a slight quiver in her voice, Eva seems somewhat regretful.

Not as emotionally charged, “High Flying, Adored,” has Eva’s male entourage dressing her in blouses, skirts, and hats. “And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out)” has the ensemble cast choreographed to hand off large packets of money to each other, as in a relay race. Choreographer Christopher D’Amboise has the high-energy ensemble dancing from one corner of the stage to the other. Their momentum is both intoxicating and contagious.

Rachel Zampelli (Eva and Robert Ariza (Che). Photo by Stan Barouh.

Rachel Zampelli (Eva and Robert Ariza (Che). Photo by Stan Barouh.

The vocals shift to a slightly less penetrating level for the following numbers, “Santa Evita,” “Waltz for Eva and Che,” and “She is a Diamond”. “You Must Love Me,” that evokes the sadness of Eva’s demise at the age of 33.

The mood is echoed in “Dice are Rolling” and “Eva’s Final Broadcast” as Eva’s health declines. The ending’s “Lament” is staged powerfully and emotionally.

The talented ensemble includes: Megan Adrielle, Jonathan Atkinson, Ronald Bruce, Mark Chandler, Willie Dee, Nick Duckert, Jamie Eacker, Ashleigh King, Nick Lehan, Nurnwey, Maria Rizzo, Kristin Yancy, and Jane Zogbi. They are the heart of this production.

Scenic Designer Arnulfo Maldonado’s set is simple and very effective. As the show progresses, the set is transformed from a cantina to the train station, then the charity concert, and finally the interior walls of the political mansion. Chairs and tables are used into various set-ups to emphasize the location.

Nick Duckart (juan Perón), Rachel Zampelli (Eva) and the cast. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Nick Duckart (Juan Perón), Rachel Zampelli (Eva) and the cast. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Warm tones of soft lavender, blue, and peach are used throughout the production that add to the mood of the scenes. When Buenos Aires is flourishing, the added wall sconces and chandelier lighting brightens up the Peron’s mansion.

The “Requiem” and “Lament” numbers are subtly lit by Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills, adding to the poignancy of those scenes. Costume Designer Ivania Stack’s period costumes are on point for the ensemble cast. The men wear trousers, long sleeves, vests and coats in the beginning of the show. The women are in skirts and blouses, some patterned, some not. Lane Elms provides excellent sound design, exemplifying the many changing moods of the story.

I felt every movement and every lyric “from my head to my toes” and I had a “rainbow high” leaving the Olney Theater Center. I have been listening to the cast CD for the last few days and reliving the experience.

Evita is an outstanding musical that has withstood the test of time. Olney Theatre Center’s production of Evita is intense, impressive, and remarkable.

Running Time: 2 hours, with one intermission.

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Evita plays through July 24, 2016 at Olney Theatre Center – 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, in Olney, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 924-3400, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1552.gif

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