Newsday: ‘Evita’ review: The Peróns with passion

You’ll find few better opportunities to appreciate “Evita” than in this emotionally charged Engeman Theater reincarnation in Northport.

Don’t cry for Andrew Lloyd Webber. Sir Andy needn’t work a day the rest of his life. But while I don’t lose sleep over it, whenever “Evita” is revived, I wonder what might’ve been had he continued collaborating with Tim Rice.

We won’t cry for Sir Timmy, either. He went on to pen lyrics for “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Aladdin.” Still, Webber never wrote a richer score than the last one he composed with Rice — “Phantom of the Opera” notwithstanding.

You’ll find few better opportunities to appreciate “Evita” than in this emotionally charged Engeman Theater reincarnation in Northport. Forget the 2012 Broadway revival with Ricky Martin as Ché or the dreadful 1996 Madonna movie — this “Evita” feels authentic. Never mind the poetic-license story line. The only evidence that Ché, the revolutionary martyr who narrates this life story of the ambitious poor girl Eva Duarte, later Perón, had anything to do with her is that he, too, was Argentine. But Ché, in the sardonic person of Aaron Finley, is the perfect critic of a junta opportunist who sleeps her way to the top.

Rice’s flamenco-to-classical operetta lyrics paint an Eva we can all relate to — if we’re shameless enough. Janine DiVita (rhymes with “Evita”) could be the pretty girl next door, except for her Latina chutzpah. In a macho society, she treats men like horses, riding them until they’re spent. Then she finds another mount. Her ambitions are captured in such feisty merry-go-round numbers as “Good Night and Thank You” (Ruben Flores plays her first casualty) and the musical-chairs masterpiece depicting Generale/El-Presidente-to-Be Perón’s ascension, “The Art of the Possible.”

Bruce Winant as Perón looks the part and sings it convincingly in “She Is a Diamond.” But without Eva, Perón would remain a soldier. Her ruthless humanity is encapsulated in perhaps the greatest number ever written for a minor character, identified only as “Mistress.” Eva reassures the girl she’s displacing in Perón’s bed, before Ashley Perez Flanagan sings with resignation for her dignity, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”

Daniel Willis’ bi-level set and Kurt Alger’s costume and wig designs encapsulate time and place. Conductor James Olmstead and choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo keep the cast going with the flow. One complaint with director Igor Goldin’s casting: The adoring crowd beneath Eva’s balcony, where she pleads, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” is too sparse. DiVita’s Evita deserves legions.

WHAT EVITA’

WHEN l WHERE Weekly: Sun. 2 p.m.; Thu. 8 p.m.; Fri. 8 p.m.; Sat. 3 p.m., 8 p.m.Through Sun. 11/2. Additional dates: Thu. 10/23 2 p.m., John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main St., Northport

INFO $69,  engemantheater.com, 631-261-2900

Related media

Janine DiVita plays Eva Peron in "Evita," the Scenes from ‘Evita’ Janine DiVita stars as Eva Peron in the ‘Evita’ at the John W. Engeman Theater

Times Beacon Record: ‘Evita’ triumphs at Northport’s Engeman Theater

Readers be advised: This is going to be a rave review. This revival of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s famous hit “Evita” at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport was so enthralling that your scribe has felt urged to abandon, temporarily, his inherited Welsh reserve and abhorrence of superlatives, and embrace the perpendicular pronoun.

I believe the musical about the rise and fall of the wife of dictator Juan Perόn of Argentina is more opera than musical comedy. Yet “Evita” stands as a monument to American theater, and was once banned in Argentina.

“Evita” traces the sordid, checkered past of young Eva Duarte from the small town of Los Toldos to become “first lady” of Argentina. She was a beacon to the women’s movement worldwide as she shared political power with her husband, the dictator, from 1948 to 1952, when she died of cancer at the age of 33.

Janine Divita plays the title role with glamour, grace and a strong, plangent soprano. Her stage presence, tall and angular, is captivating. Her role is varied as she sells out the life a poor teenager from the provinces to a career on the fringe of Buenos Aires life, small roles in radio and movies, until she meets Perόn at a fundraiser.

Divita engages in some trigger-tongue banter in Buenos Aires, but tops it all in her rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” which she sings stage center, elevated and in a strapless white gown. The only word to describe it was “impact.” She was at her near best as a dancer and integrated well into the evolutions of the finest choreography director in the six theater spots I am assigned to: Antoinette DiPietropolo. Divita’s “You Must Love Me,” sung to Perόn, and her “Lament” at the finale were penetrating.

Bruce Winant is Perόn. He is sturdy, truly in love with Evita and possessed of a fine tenor effective at mid and lyric range, but with outstanding power. His interfacing with Divita is carried off with highly professional quality. His “The Art of the Possible” was not only penetrating, but illustrative of his talent.

 

JWE_Evita_Press_Photo_1
Aaron C. Finley as ‘Che.’ Photo by Michael DeCristofaro

Then there is Aaron C. Finley as “Che.” He had virtually no exits and served neatly and incisively as a Greek chorus in song that guided the audience through the entire play. His opening number, “Oh, What a Circus,” and “Good Night and Thank You,” coupled with “High Flying, Adored” and “And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out)” were a tribute to Finley’s extraordinary range.

A word about “Che”: It is an Argentine colloquialism meaning “Hey, you,” and marks the speaker as an Argentinian. However the real “Che” was Ernesto “Che” Guevara, a 24-year-old Argentinian Communist who migrated to Cuba to become Fidel Castro’s right-hand man. He never knew or met Evita or her husband. In 1967, in an attempt to foment revolution in Bolivia, he was cornered and gunned down by a Bolivian Ranger, thus ending the Castro-Mao brand of revolution.

Ruben Flores was Agust’n Magaldi, a two-bit tango singer who takes Evita to Buenos Aires and abandons her. His “On this Night of a Thousand Stars” is a neat takeoff on those Latin ballads that captivated Yankee audiences in the 1930s and ’40s, such as “You Belong to My Heart” or “Bahia.”

The “Company” deserves equal praise: Emily Esposito, Ashley Perez Flanagan, Ruben Flores, Megan Koumis, Justin Gregory Lopez, Erika Peterson, Ryan Rhue, Hallie Silverston and Gilbert Sanchez.

I place the music last for obvious reasons — it was the finest. Under the unerring direction of James Olmstead on piano, it featured the workmanship of Joe Boardman on trumpet, Marnie Harris on violin, Douglas Baldwin on guitar, Russ Brown on bass and Josh Endlich on percussion. Endlich had the lead in a number of Latin-beat numbers that rocked the house. This outfit anchored everything with nanosecond precision.

I hope that readers get the message that this “Evita” is the best “theatah” around.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Evita” through Nov. 2. Tickets are $69. For more information, call 261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

The Northport Daily News: “Evita” wows audiences at the Engeman Theater: Prepare for a magical night

“Evita,” the musical about the rise and fall of Argentina’s most beloved (and controversial) First Lady has opened at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater.  Although more than 60 years have passed since her demise, the legend and mystique of Eva Perón lingers on. Was the woman affectionately referred to as Evita  truly a saintly champion of the masses– or  a savvy manipulator whose actions were fueled by greed and ambition?  The truth lies somewhere in-between.    In the hands of Director Igor Goldin and an exemplary cast, this historical saga revisited in song featuring lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber is a powerhouse of a production.  It draws you in, enthralls and leaves you wanting more.  You’ll find yourself humming one of the show-stopping songs, and seeking  additional information about the woman who rose from the slums of Argentina to reign as the country’s spiritual leader and  spokesperson for the President. Prepare for a magical night.

Eva Perón was one of five illegitimate children born to a wealthy rancher in a country that stigmatized such offspring. Juan Duarte abandoned his brood, plunging the family into dire poverty.  Yet Eva refused to let her circumstances extinguish her hopes, and  relentlessly pursued her dream to escape to Buenos Aires,  Argentina’s Big Apple.   Eva became an actress, and serendipitously met  Colonel Juan Perón  at a  charity benefit for San Juan earthquake victims.  This fortuitous meeting would set the stage for Juan’s presidency.

Sadly, for Eva Perón, her Cinderella story would be short-lived. The show opens with “Requiem,” a solemn ode to the First Lady whose death from cancer at age 33 brought Argentina to its knees.

The musical numbers which follow fill in the details of Eva Perón’s rags to riches story. Che (Aaron C. Finely) who espouses a critical view of Eva’s escapades, straddles the fourth wall, serving as the narrator/commentator while also joining in on the action.

The songs “Eva, Beware of the City” sung by Magaldi (Ruben Flores) and “Buenos Aires,” resonate with the desire of young Eva (Janine Divita), then a brunette, to escape to the town considered the ‘Paris’ of Argentina.

In her quest to rise to lofty heights, Eva became a blonde who was not above using her feminine wiles to obtain favors from prominent men.

Particularly entertaining and humorous is “Goodnight and Thank You,” in which Eva beds and discards a series of lovers while the sardonic Che looks on with disgust and comments accordingly.

Interestingly enough, the woman who seemed to have a hard time saying no took a different tactic when she ran into Colonel Perón (Bruce Winant).

“I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You,” Eva sings to Colonel Perón , and she turns out to be right. She hastily dispatches Juan’s young mistress, played by Ashley Perez Flanagan, the daughter of Senator John Flanagan.  This mistress is no hard-shelled Eva Perón, and  the young woman, who has been abruptly kicked to the curb, sees that she is becoming more vulnerable as each “love” affair draws to an end.  Her stunningly heartbreaking and poignant  “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” is a true delight that showcases Ms. Perez Flanagan’s considerable gift for acting and song.

Perhaps the pinnacle of the show occurs when Juan Perón wins the presidency and Eva, dressed to the nines in a shimmering sequined white dress, addresses the crowd assembled below the balcony of the Casa Rosada.   We catch a glimpse of the perfectly coiffed golden-haired beauty as she strides by a translucent rounded top window. It is a magical prelude to Eva’s glorious rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”

As part of the quest of the Peróns to orchestrate a “New Argentina,” Eva establishes her charitable foundation. The highly engaging song, “And the Money Kept Rolling In,” suggests that some of the funds destined for the poverty-stricken might have been used to feather the Peróns’ own financial nest.

Evita is a winning production which runs the gamut from the humorous to the profoundly sad.  Kudos to Michael Cassara for the casting.  Janine Divita excels as Evita and Bruce Winant is a true talent who compliments her perfectly and as was pointed out to me, actually resembles Juan Perón. Aaron C. Finley adds just the right amount of spice as Che.

The dance moves (and there’s some dirty dancing) are beautifully choreographed by Antoinette DiPietropolo. The show is all about the music and once again, the band led by James Olmstead, whose work I have admired in the past, delivers the goods and then some.

With lighting by Zach Blane, Daniel Willis’ set takes on the humble aura of a tango café one moment and is palatial the next.

“Evita” runs through November 2. The Engeman Theater is located at 250 Main St., Northport Village. Tickets can be purchased at the theater’s box office, by calling (631) 261-2900 or by visiting www.engemantheater.com.

The Long-Islander: ‘Evita’ Dazzles At The Engeman Theater

Janine Divita dazzles as Eva Peron in Engeman Theater’s “Evita.”

Don’t cry for her, Argentina!

The spirit of the legendary Eva “Evita” Peron is alive and well, and temporarily living in Northport at the John W. Engeman Theater.

“Evita,” the Andrew Lloyd-Webber-Tim Rice operetta, opened on Sept. 18 and runs through Nov. 2.

If you haven’t already purchased tickets, you should. The resounding reactions of early audiences should mean this production will soon sell out.

In Broadway’s original “Evita,” Northport native Patti LuPone’s portrayal of Eva Peron set the gold standard for anyone else who undertakes the role.

The beautiful Janine Divita’s performance of Evita at the Engeman is one that LuPone would applaud. Divita is the real deal. She becomes Evita with every breath she takes, every elegant move she makes, as well as with every incredible word she sings in a play that has no spoken dialogue.

Divita’s voice is glorious, filling the theatre with a majestic quality that captivates audiences just as the real Evita Peron captured the working-class hearts of Juan Peron’s Argentina during the World War II and post War era.

For those who aren’t familiar with the play, the story focuses on the meteoric rise to fame and fortune of Maria Eva Duarte Peron (“Evita”), who began life as a poor girl in the slums of Argentina, but with steely determination and the use of her sexual wiles, climbed the ladder of success to become a model and stage actress and then, First Lady of her nation.

Eva Peron may have been the first of many modern-day women who knew how to use the media to help build and maintain the image she wished to convey to her adoring public. While the working class loved her, she was ridiculed by the upper class.

Divita portrays Evita with a fire in her belly and sheer determination in her eyes.

The play is told with the use of a storyteller, Che (the rebel Che Guevara, one of Juan Peron’s political foes). Che is played by Aaron C. Finley. Finley’s stage presence is commanding, his voice astounding.

Evita begins as an audience of working place Argentines sit in a theater enjoying a film. A voice breaks in telling them their beloved Eva Peron has died. Deep shock and sadness ensue, and the people reverently sing a Requiem to their cherished Evita.

Che cynically dismisses all the mourning, singing, “Oh, What a Circus.”

In a few flashbacks in time, the audience witnesses the teen-aged brunette Eva, convincing a tango lounge singer to take her out of the slums to Buenos Aires, where she is determined to become a star. Che sings of her ability to hitch her wagon to the star of any man who can further her career. We see the young Eva sleeping her way up the ladder of success.

After an earthquake severely damages one Argentine city, the now blonde Eva attends a fundraiser hosted by military leader, Juan Peron. In a bold gesture, she seduces Peron by serenading him with “I’d be Surprisingly Good for You.” Peron agrees with her words. He takes her home with him, that night, where she immediately moves in, dismissing his current mistress.

Peron’s election and the success he and Evita eagerly embrace are ridiculed by Che in the song, “High Flying and Adored.”

In Act 2, the operetta’s amazing showstopper, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” has Evita singing to the masses of her willingness to leave her acting career behind and work with her husband to make their peoples’ lives better. Divita’s rendition of the song produced goose bumps and won resounding applause.

Throughout the rest of Act II, we see Eva planning a trip to Europe in order to bolster the image of the Peron presidency. She also starts a charitable foundation to help her beloved working-class citizens, but soon becomes so taken with her own fame that she falls victim to the lure of money and power. The saintly image, now tarnished, is lambasted by Che.

Sadly, Evita’s young, charismatic life is threatened by an advanced cancer, and she dies at the age of 33, leaving Peron and her people behind in deep mourning. Evita is a classic soap opera set to an exquisite score. The cast members embrace their roles fully.  Credit Director Igor Golden for eliciting believable performances from all – even the chorus members.

Aided by a beautiful set by Daniel Willis, amazing costumes by Kurt Alger, and excellent music direction (James Olmstead), choreography (Antoinette DiPietropolo) and lighting (Zach Blane), this production is nearly picture perfect.

Bruce Winnant is the proud President Juan Peron, whose dedication to his people and tender love for his Evita are presented beautifully.

One last shout out needs to go to young Ashley Perez Flanagan, who, in one brief solo, brought the house down. Flanagan plays the Peron mistress whom Evita dismisses on the night she moves in with Peron. Flanagan’s beautiful voice and tragic questioning, “Where will I go?” tugged at the heart strings of audience members. She definitely has a future!

NY Theatre Guide: Theatre Review: ‘Evita’ at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport

Janine Divita as Eva Peron. Photo by Michael DeCristofaro.

The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport continues its 2014/15 season with the Tony Award winning musical Evita.

A powerful show from the haunting opening to the poignant finale. 

Evita follows the life of Eva Perόn, the First Lady of Argentina from 1946-1952.  Born poor and working-class, Eva clawed and climbed her way up the social ladder.  Though she initially started with good intentions for social reform, her ego and ambition grew until her ineffectiveness unfolded to its heartbreaking conclusion.  With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, the score’s heavy reliance on sharps, flats and dissonance enhance the feeling of her struggling life.

An accomplished cast heightens the experience of any show.  Eva Perόn is played by Janine Divita with a remarkably convincing accent.  Her sharp and powerful voice supports the hard and stubborn personality of her character.  Bruce Winant superbly portrays Juan Perόn, military man and President of Argentina; his rich, full voice reaching impressive depths.  Ruben Flores’ wonderful voice rings out as the tango and milonga singer Agustin Magaldi.  Ashley Perez Flanagan was a joy to listen to as the Mistress.  Her sweet, clear voice soared over the audience with palpable emotion, and any future demonstrations of her talents would be most welcome.  Aaron C. Finely steals the show as Che, our guide through the musical who is part narrator and part Eva’s conscience.  Finely plays the bored/arrogant narrator perfectly.  His character’s all-knowing cynicism flows effortlessly with languid movement, apropos facial expressions and clear, pleasing vocals.

With direction by Igor Goldin, and scenic design by Daniel Willis, the use of the stage was astutely managed.  A clever scene of political musical chairs demonstrated Juan Perόn’s rise to power, while moving staircases and onstage costume changes deftly progressed the action.  Music Director James Olmstead and the band produced striking results from a challenging score.  Lighting by Zach Blane and costuming by Kurt Alger both aided in creating the atmosphere and mood of the show.

Evita may perhaps be best described as a political biography disguised as a musical.  While not happy by any means, it is a fascinating look at a short, bright life.  A powerful show from the haunting opening to the poignant finale.

Running Time: Approximately 2 ½ hours with one 15 minute intermission.

Advisory: Adult themes, scenes and language throughout.

Evita is playing at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, on Long Island until November 2nd, 2014. The theater is located at 250 Main Street, Northport NY.  For tickets, call the box office at (631) 261-2900 or click here.

Navigation

Send this to a friend