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“Evita” – University of Michigan Musical Theatre Program October 17, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Theatre.
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“Evita”, currently running at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre at the University of Michigan is a musical theatre diamond. Presented by the Musical Theatre department, it is as slick as a Broadway tour, and as tight as a college production can be.

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The production reaffirms that the only current professional caliber musical theatre being presented in Ann Arbor is being done by the UM Musical Theatre program. Let me state up front that I love big-budget proscenium-theatre musicals with full orchestras. Especially when they are done right.

Under the expert direction of Linda Goodrich, the show plays out exactly as it should — a fast, straight-forward Act I, followed by an ever-increasingly more emotional Act II, through to the tear-jerker ending. “Buenos Aires” and “A New Argentina” remain Act One’s highlights, while “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “Rainbow Tour” are clearly Act Two’s forte pieces.

To be sure, this is a problematic work of musical theatre. The Peron story doesn’t really play out true to reality, and follows a “spin” on her biography that bends the truth, and is mean-spirited at that. The Broadway production catapulted Patty LuPone to stardom (ironically, she will be performing here later this year).

But this production is simply first rate, from the fine performances of Desi Oakley (Eva) and Carlos Valdes (Che) to the smaller ensemble parts. The costumes, sets, lighting, choreography, sound, and orchestra are professional and slick. In short, everything a production of the show should be. Linda Goodrich and her design team have made the theatre feel twice the size that it is, and the simple (but beautifully designed) tiered set makes the proscenium arch feel far higher than it is. This is just plain old great design work. The costumes here, like in the original Broadway production, instantly make an indelible impression – separating class, age, and social rank – and make scene changes seamless and fluid without set changes. Can I add that Desi gets to wear the most stunning clothing I’ve seen in a show this season? By the time Eva reaches her Rainbow Tour, you are utterly transported to a different time and place. By that point in the story, the emotion has also kicked into high gear and it’s a race to the conclusion. Brava to both Ms. Oakley as well as Linda Goodrich’s fine pacing and direction.

This is a love it or hate it work of theatre. The same can’t be said of the production, and I loved it. Unfortunately, unless you already have tickets, you won’t be seeing this one. Every performance has been sold out for weeks.

On a final note, can we consider this show now “done” here locally? Civic, Encore, UM, EMU, Croswell…

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