Dictators or Elected Leaders | “Evita” at Cabrillo Music Theatre

Evita (Cabrillo Music Theatre)Cabrillo UserpicLast night, we went to go see Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Going in, I was hoping to find some resonance with this year’s political campaign. After all, looking at it one way, we had the story of a popular entertainer who grew into a potent political power, a person who ran a foundation that appeared to do good but was primarily for their family’s personal benefit, a person whose rise to power was based more on style than substance. When examined the other way, we had the story of an ambitious woman whose rise to power was based more on her husband’s reputation than her own; a woman whose husband had a record of sleeping with whores; a woman who ambitiously craved power in a country where women had never ruled; a woman whose political opponents were made to shut up, and often conveniently disappeared.

I was hoping to find resonance, a lesson to be learned, something useful I could bring to my discussions on Facebook.

I found nothing. But it was still a fun story.

I’ve seen Evita numerous times before. I had seen the original when it was at the Shubert Theatre in Century City back when both existed back in 1980. I next saw Evita in a high-school performance at Van Nuys HS back in 2011. The next version was community theatre: the  Maui Academy of the Performing Arts (MAPA) (FB) production at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC) (FB) last August. Last night, Cabrillo’s version.

As I wrote back in August: For those not familiar with Evita, it is the second rock opera written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. It concentrates on the life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentinian president Juan Perón. The story follows Evita’s early life, rise to power, charity work, and eventual death. It is a sung-through opera, with very little non-musical spoken dialogue. You can find a detailed synopsis of the story on the wikipedia page or on the Rice/Webber page for the show.

When one has seen a show this many times, one tends not to focus on the book but the performances. In this production, there were strengths and weaknesses. In terms of overall direction, Roger Castellano (FB) used his ensemble and set well, taking advantage of the simple set and the power of the masses. I appreciated some of his touches, such as the casket for Eva and the “Santa Evita” number. The power of the people came into play in many numbers, particularly in “A New Argentina”. My only directoral quibble (which could be more choreographical, and thus Cheryl Baxter (FB)’s department) was the behavior and movement of the Argentinian Generals in the various scenes (e.g., “The Art of the Possible”, and similar scenes). They need to be crisp, strong, precise, and exude authority and power. These guys ambled in, and had all the precision of a volunteer army. Tighten it up, men.

Evita is one of those shows that lives and dies based on the strength of its leads. Alas, I must report that this production was a mixed bag. Their Che, Marc Ginsberg (FB), was excellent. He had the vocal power, he had the stage presence, he had the appropriate cynical attitude, and he had the look down pat. One of the best Che’s I’ve ever seen. I could list his numbers as examples, but he was just great. This production is worth seeing for his performance.

Their Eva, Cassandra Murphy (FB), was… almost. She had the look perfect. Her vocals were spot on. Her dancing was great. All of which are critical for an Eva. But to excel, Eva needs something extra — a stage presence that grabs you by the neck and demands your attention. This was something that  Amy Hānaili’i Gilliom (FB), the Eva we saw in Hawaii, had. It is something that many of the Broadway Eva’s had. I think it may come from years of being on the stage and knowing how to be the presence that makes that spotlight come to you on its own. Murphy’s Eva had about 85% of that luminescence, but it needs just a bit more to achieve the stellar highs.

The weak spot in this production (at least to me), was David Kirk Grant (FB)’s Juan Peron. Peron needs to be a presence, not a milquetoast. Grant’s Peron had the right voice, but he did not exude power. Peron has to have the sense of a former military man who grabbed the reins of power, not by always the best of means. He has the soft spot for Eva — she is perhaps his one weakness — but otherwise there needs to be that toughness. That just didn’t come across.

In the second tier, we have two named characters who primarily appear only in the first half of the first act. Both were very strong. Bill Ledesma (FB)’s had the sexy look and the requisite sexy voice for the tango singer, Agustin Magaldi. His portrayal of Magaldi against Murphy’s Eva was very strong. Also very strong was Isa Briones (FB)’s mistress.  She has one scene and one song, and she just nails it beautifully. I hope to see more of Briones in future productions in Southern California.

Everyone else in Evita is ensemble. The upper crust. The generals. The des camisados. The union workers. The maids and butlers and hangers-ons. All ensemble. As such, it is hard to single anyone out. However… the little girl that opened up “Santa Evita” just melted my heart. Lovely performance. I’m also pleased to note that the ensemble featured all colors, shapes, and sizes, which I thought was particularly good. The ensemble consisted of Elizabeth Adabale (FB), Isa Briones (FB), Liz Bustle (FB), Fernando Christopher (FB), Eduardo Giancarlo (FB), Augusto Guardado/FB, Veronica Gutierrez/FB, Timothy Joshua Hearl (FB), Jackson Hinden (FB), Katie Hume (FB), Brandon Taylor Jones/FB, Bill Ledesma (FB), Lyrissa Leininger (FB), Janelle Lillian (FB), Sarah Marie Maher (FB), Drew Mizell (FB), Alastair James Murden (FB), Tracy Ray Reynolds (FB), Joshua Rivera (FB), Jacqueline Elyse Rosenthal (FB), Katherine Steele (FB), and Kendyl Yokoyama (FB). The children’s ensemble consisted of Luca de la Peña/FB, Savannah Fischer/FB, Calista Loter/FB, Madison North/FB, Brooke Rassell/FB, Emma Safier/FB, Marcello Silva/FB, and Lilly Victoria Thompson/FB.

Jacqueline Elyse Rosenthal (FB) was the understudy for Eva Peron.

As an aside, the diverse casting of the ensemble made me question the leads a little: after all, this is Argentina. Wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, the leads be Hispanic. But then again, Eva is always portrayed in the archival newsreels as lily white, so perhaps this was seen as a virtue in the England-worshipping society of Argentina in the 1930s. Still, I think it is an interesting question to explore.

The music for the production was provided by the Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra, Dr. Cassie Nickols (FB), Musical Director; Dan Redfield/FB, Conductor; Darryl Tanikawa (FB), Orchestra Contractor; and Darryl Archibald (FB), Music Supervisor.  The orchestra consisted of: Gary Rautenberg (FB)[Flute, Piccolo, Alto Flute]; Darryl Tanikawa (FB) [Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Tenor Sax]; Bill Barrett [Trumpet I]; Chris Maurer [Trumpet II]; June Satton (FB) [Trombone]; Melissa Hendrickson (FB) [Horn]; Sharon Cooper [Violin I, Concertmaster]; Sally Berman [Violin II]; Karen Goulding Long [Viola]; Rachel Coosaia (FB) [Cello]; Benjamin Ginsberg/FB [Keyboard Synthesizer I]; Ryan Whyman [Keyboard II]; Tom Griffin [Keyboard III]; Pathik Desai (FB) [Electric and Acoustic Guitars]; Shane Harry/FB [Electric and Double String Bass]; Alan Peck [Set Drums]; and Tyler Smith/FB [Percussion]. The orchestra was produced by Tanikawa Artists Management LLC.

Turning to the production and creative side of things. Th sets were provided by The Music and Theatre Company (FB), with additional scenic design by Alex Choate (FB). Costumes were provided by The Theatre Company (FB); Beth Glasner (FB) was the costume designer. Both the sets and the costumes worked well; I particularly liked the integration of actual archival footage into the projections.  The lighting design by Kim Killingsworth (FB) worked well, particularly the integration of two spots on the scaffolding on the sides of the stage. Jonathan Burke (FB)’s sound design, as always, was clear and crisp. Jim Belcher did the hair and makeup design, and it worked reasonably well — particularly the wigs for Eva Peron. Rounding out the credits were: Jack Allaway, Technical Director; Jessica R. Aguilar, Production Stage Manager; Richard Storrs (FB), Marketing Director; David Elzer/Demand PR, Press Representative; and Will North (FB), Managing Director.

Note that last credit. This was Will North (FB)’s first time helming a production, taking over from long time artistic director Lewis Wilkenfeld (FB). Whereas Lewis would go on and on (and on and on) about what Cabrillo was doing in the community, introducing groups in the audience, and so forth, Will was much more succinct. No mention of all the good, just a quick mention of the raffle and moving forward. Lewis created a personality for Cabrillo; hopefully, over time, we will be able to see Will’s personality emerge as he loosens up and endears himself to the audience.

Evita continues at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) for one more weekend. Tickets are available through the Cabrillo online box office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar. This is a reasonably good production of the show; well worth seeing if you haven’t seen it before.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), the Chromolume Theatre (FB) in the West Adams district, and a mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB).  The Chromolume 2017 season looks particularly good: Zanna Don’t (Tim Acito, January 13 – February 5), Hello Again (Michael John LaChiusa, May 5- May 28), and Pacific Overtures (Stephen Sondheim, September 15 – October 8) — all for only $60). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:  Next weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB). The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood).

Allan Sherman Tribute Show at TASInterrupting this recap for a word from a sponsor: Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom is open to the community, and is a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood. Please tell your friends about it. I’m Past President of MoTAS, and I really want this to be a success. Click on the flyer to the right for more information. It should be a really funny night.

November starts with another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB): Culture Clash’s Vote or Die Laughing. The following weekend brings Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Nottingham Festival (FB). We then lose a weekend as we travel to Palo Alto for a Bar Mitzvah. The third weekend of November brings Funny Girl, a Conundrum Theatre Company (FB) guest production at  The Colony Theatre (FB) and a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]. November concludes with a HOLD date for Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. The last month of the year will include Into the Woods at Nobel Middle School, the CSUN Jazz Band at the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), Amalie at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB), The King and I at the Hollywood Pantages (FB); an unspecified movie on Christmas day; and a return to our New Years Eve Gaming Party.

Turning to 2017, January currently is quiet, with just a single hold date for Zanna Don’t at the Chromolume Theatre (FB). February 2017 gets back to being busy: with a hold for Zoot Suit at the Mark Taper Forum (FB) the first weekend. The second weekend brings 33 Variations at Actors Co-op (FB). The third weekend has a hold for the WGI Winter Regionals. The last weekend in February brings Finding Neverland at the Hollywood Pantages (FB). March quiets down a bit — at least as currently scheduled — with Fun Home at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) at the beginning of the month, and An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) at the end of the month.

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, Musicals in LA, @ This Stage, Footlights, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Note: Although we can’t make it, I also recommend the 10th Anniversary Production of The Brain from Planet X at LACC. Lastly, want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget.