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.
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.