Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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Evita’s unsympathetic lead seems to sing, ‘Don’t cry for me’

Without a strong Eva Peron, the lead protagonist in Andrew Lloyd Weber?s ?Evita,? the musical follows the same aimless path trodden by his ?Cats? or ?The Phantom of the Opera.? Sadly, this was the case this weekend at the Overture Center.

Madison?s Overture Center for the Arts? presentation of the national tour of ?Evita,? directed by Larry Fuller, had a few great performances highlighted by effective scenic and sound designs, but lead actress Cameron Leigh Wade?s weak performance as Eva Peron undercut the power of Weber and Rice?s work, giving the audience an unsatisfying experience and leaving us to wonder, ?So what??

?Evita? depicts Eva Peron?s rise from rural peasant to the zealous role of Argentina?s ?Spiritual Leader? in the 1940s and ’50s. Writer Weber and lyricist Tim Rice provide a score and script that explore the most central tensions of Eva?s life while also raising questions. Were her humanitarian efforts and proclaimed affection for the working poor genuine, giving hope to an entire nation, or was she merely a distraction for the populace while her dictator husband and his colleagues ravaged the country and consolidated their power? Her biographers debate these questions to this day.

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Weber?s stage production shies away from any direct answers, leaving it to the audience to ponder the thin lines between fascism and impassioned government and between patriotism and the blind following of a fervent national leader. The tension between these opposing views of Eva is where ?Evita? finds its power and rises above the average song-and-dance fluff musical.

This key tension was, however, quite lacking in the Overture presentation. Eva (Wade) came off as manipulative, vicious and generally unsympathetic, therefore only telling half the story Weber and Rice wrote. She lacked the vulnerability and charm that could make the audience root for her in her quieter, more personal moments. There were times, especially during the rousing Act I finale ?A New Argentina,? where a fiery and soulful Wade shone through, but on the whole she seemed overwhelmed by the task of presenting such a multifaceted character and was overmatched by Weber?s daunting musical score. Even when located downstage center, Wade was constantly overshadowed by the brilliant performances given by her costars.

Omar Lopez-Cepero, playing Che, the semi-omniscient narrator and conscience of Eva, was charismatic and electrifying. His wide vocal range, piercing tone and pop style perfectly captured the rock tenor sound Weber?s work often calls for. He turned in one of the few dynamic and substantive performances of the evening. At times his performance was reduced to mugging and sticking his hands in his pockets, but more often than not, he moved about the stage with a command of time and space afforded to him by his role as narrator. There were moments between himself and Eva where he quickly flipped between comedic and pointed in his delivery, as in the duet ?High Flying Adored.? He coyly questioned the motives and actions of Eva at every step, often comparing Eva and her husband to the most despicable of fascists. Unfortunately, what should have been a dialogue between Che and Eva was often one-sided.

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Philip Peterson as Juan Peron, Argentina?s dictator and Eva?s husband, turned in a solid performance as the oiliest of politicians. Standing above the ensemble, bellowing his stump speeches, Peterson seemed able to manipulate any crowd. His rich baritone could melt even the iciest heart and effectively masked the evil nature of his character.

The most surprising performance of the evening came from Stephanie Barnum playing Juan?s Mistress. Her musical number, ?Another Suitcase in Another Hall,? was the most moving and sympathetic performance of the show, thanks to Barnum?s straightforward delivery of the vulnerable character.

The ensemble provided entertaining dancing and strong vocals throughout the production. The whimsical choreography married the worlds of rich, poor and militant through a series of marches, twirling tangos and promenades. Vocally, the group exhibited strong stylistic range, ably performing both the quiet reverent numbers such as ?Santa Evita? and more raucous numbers like ?Oh What a Circus.?

The scenic and sound designs were quite compelling. The staged scenery was centered on a beautiful mural depicting a pillar of emaciated bodies and barbed wire upon which Juan and his generals rested in a circle of authority, a stunningly executed metaphor for the deeper issues in the show. The production employed the use of a projection screen on which pictures and footage of riots, police, tanks, bodies and the real Eva from the ?40s and ?50s-era Argentina were displayed, creating an environment for serious issues to play out. These issues, however, remained largely unexplored due to Wade?s one-dimensional performance.

Sadly without an Eva who could be both admired and despised, the poignancy of all these other successful elements was lost in the performance. The audience was left waiting for her demise and an end to her demagoguery, so when she finally succumbed to her terminal illness the audience had little to ponder besides, ?So what??

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