Smithtown Matters: Theater Review – ‘EVITA’

Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 1:29AM

Theater Review “Evita

Produced by: The John W. Engeman Theater – Northport

Reviewed by: Jeb Ladouceur

 

It must have been a formidable challenge for Janine Divita to accept the title role in “Evita” at the Engeman Theater this fall. We make the observation, not because the Broadway-seasoned Ms. Divita is in any way unequal to the huge task (she’s more than capable) but for the simple reason that in Northport, of all places, anyone cast in the lead of this renowned show is bound to be compared to the proud old town’s favorite daughter, Patti LuPone.

With the possible exception of writer Jack Kerouac, it’s widely acknowledged that no other Northport celebrity involved in The Arts has garnered the international acclaim that Ms. LuPone has. And most of that recognition has accrued to the singer/actress because of her Tony Award winning work in the 1978 Broadway production of “Evita.” There, the musical ran for nearly four years—37th longest in history. Remarkably, it was nominated for 22 of theatre’s most prestigious awards (consider that the hugely successful “Hello Dolly” received only 13 such nominations). To put matters in further perspective, “Evita” gained no fewer than 11 Tony Award nods and won 7 of them; (decades earlier “My Fair Lady” won 6 of 10).

“Evita” is both inspiring and tragic in that it tells of Eva Peron’s unlikely rise from an Argentine slum, where she is the child of a single mother—to her career as an ambitious actress—and ultimately to her securing a place in the nation’s seat of power, the Presidential Palace. There, the once destitute girl who has become Argentina’s First Lady, wins the adoration of her people by displaying concern for the poor and disadvantaged, despite her own failing health. Eva’s inability to control her greed and ambition, however, lends an overriding element of Greek tragedy to the play, which nonetheless manages to work as a thoroughly absorbing, lyrical musical.

The multi-talented Ms. Divita is in good company among a cast of proven professionals, primarily in the person of ‘Che’ who serves effectively as the story’s narrator and pace-setter. Bruce Winant, playing Juan Peron, is the most widely traveled performer in the company, and his experience is evident. Winant is as silky-smooth as we expect the slick Argentine leader to be, and we get the impression that his very presence on stage is largely responsible for elevating the performances of his fellow actors.

Prominent among those accomplished players is Ruben Flores (Migaldi), whom many will recognize from ‘Law and Order’ though that is by no means chief among his many performing credits. They run the gamut from Shakespeare to “Beauty and the Beast” and attest to Flores’s obvious versatility. The inclusion of lovely Ashley Perez Flanagan, who plays Juan Peron’s mistress marvelously, should be an inspiration to all aspiring thespians who see her at the Engeman over the next six weeks. Ashley started her career as a hostess at JWE and has gone on to distinguish herself in more than a half dozen productions to date.

Credit director Igor Goldin for flawlessly guiding his charges in this musical which Patti LuPone claimed was the most unbearable experience of her theatrical life, stating that “The play was obviously written by a man who hates women. I screamed my way through the role of Eva Peron.” That said, Janine Divita and company give no hint of such distress. Indeed, everyone in this lush production contributes to another Engeman blockbuster that takes the often explosive Ms. LuPone’s early stomping grounds by storm.

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