I believe the Lebowsky Center for the Performing Arts could take an odd, sometimes dull and mostly forgettable musical and make it a must-see show. Its production of “Evita” is proof.
The complicated and sometimes dissonant Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice musical doesn’t have a lot of memorable songs besides “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.” This “Evita” — with nearly continuous singing — is more a grandiose opera than a musical with splashy numbers. “Evita” has few lead roles and no spectacular finale.
Ah, but in the hands of those like director Garrett Bradley, conductor Jillian Boots, set designers Dirk Rennick and Dan Wenzlick and choreographers Erica Duffield and Taylor Engel, the tricky “Evita” becomes a local production worthy of a stage in a city much bigger than Owosso.
Bradley skillfully keeps a 21-member ensemble (four from Lansing) energetically adapting to multiple roles. The brilliant, seven-piece band sounds more like a full orchestra. The detailed, functional, two-story set with splendid balconies inside the Lebowsky Center is magnificent. The tango-influenced dances are flashy and well executed.
Powerhouse singers like Megan Meyer as Evita Peron and Diego Perez as Che Guevara make Lebowsky’s “Evita” nigh impossible to neglect. Meyer sings mightily through almost the entire show, which runs for about two hours and includes an intermission. She plays the famous Argentine first lady with striking diva qualities of her own. Meyer’s monumental voice and performance left me star-struck.
As a narrator, Perez also wails forcefully during most of the performance. His character, Guevara — who, like Evita, is also a fictionalized version of an historical figure — helps explain what can be a confusing serious of historical events that reveal Evita’s rise to power from the poor, rural fringes of Buenos Aires.
Adam Gordon’s lighting design adds atmosphere and style to an already grand production. Numerous costumes by Alissa Britten — including a stunning ball gown — enhance the authenticity of a story set in a time period that stretches from the ’30s to the ’50s. Brandon Hook’s sound effects and sound quality are superb.
The opening night performance, played to a just about full house, was nearly flawless — except for the squeaky wheels of a casket cart. When the stage was filled with the ensemble’s majestic harmonies, or with only Meyer’s colossal voice, the impact was compelling. And with so much to look and marvel at, I will remember Lebowsky’s “Evita” — even if I won’t recall much of the script.
It should be noted that the Lebowsky Center requires all patrons to wear a mask. The cast and ushers are vaccinated. No concessions are sold and any meet and greets of the performers have been suspended.
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