A Commanding Performance

Last night, we went to see “Evita” at Van Nuys High School. Now, if that sounds ambitious for a high-school musical, it was. Even more surprising than the choice of musical was that they pulled it off. Yes, there were a few rough spots, but one expects that with a high school production. This one was 90% there, and that’s remarkable given the experience of these kids.

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 no 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.

As I indicated above, Van Nuys nailed this production. A majority of the credit for that goes to the leads, Laurel Anderson as Evita, Sean Scott as Che, and Michael Hill as Juan Peron. Laurel in particular deserves strong notes for both her singing ability and her acting ability—this was a young lady who had the skills to pull this off on a professional stage, if this had been her desire (and I’m not just saying this because she’s a friend of my daughter—Laurel was just excellent in the role). The two young men (Sean Scott and Michael Hill) were almost as strong. Both were good singers, although Scott could have been stronger in the rock numbers with a bit more of an edge. Both had greater problems with the acting side; in particular, with the overuse of their hands during their songs. If they were to restrain that more and focus on a more naturalistic side, they would have been better.

In the smaller named roles, Ashlyn Killham was perfection in her sole number as Peron’s mistress (one of my favorite numbers in the show). Matthew James Goldsen Augustin Magaldi was much weaker. Augustin needed more suave and smoothness in his voice, as well as a deeper understanding the movement and style of a tango singer… plus he had to lose the gold lame jumpsuit that made him look like Elvis.

The remainder of the ensemble was strong, with only the occasional flat note (most noticible to me in “Rainbow Tour”). They sang well as a group, acted well in a variety of roles, and moved strongly. The ensemble consisted of Taylor Morris, Erin Geronimi, Angela Tokadjian, Priscilla Legaspi, Karina Gonzalez, Summer Mannshahia, Melodie Munoz-Lestrade, Darwin Gallegos, Vivian Cermeño, Kim Reyes, Marelen Villalta Priscilla Zambrano, Gabriel Dominguez, and Omar Contreras.

The production was directed by Randy Olea, the drama teacher. In the past, I haven’t always been kind to Mr. Olea’s direction. Although some aspects here were problematic (in particular, the aforementioned overuse of hands by the male leads), he did something right in this production… for this was the first production that held the high-school audience spellbound, without the usual cheers and jeers that one constantly gets from kids. These kids were mesmerized by the story and the acting, and the credit for that goes to Mr. Olea for selecting such an ambitious show, and pulling it off in a way that worked. Credit also goes to the choreography and voice coaching of Anita Morales and Robbyn Kermsse.

Music was provided by Mr. Eisenhart and his student orchestra. This could have been improved, as a few instruments (in particular, one violin) sounded distinctly flat. This style of music may not have been their forte, for they were pitch perfect and wonderful with their intermission jazz music.

Turning to the technical…. the set was constructed by Mr. Kirkpatrick and his student set construction team. It was a relatively simple set, with some relatively simple props… but it worked and allowed the student acting and singing abilities to come through. The sound and lights by Mr. Coy’s tech crew were relatively problem free. The sound was the clearest I’ve ever heard in a Van Nuys production, and the lighting had no obvious miscues and no misuse of the technology, working to establish the mood quite well. In other words, the team worked together on this show, and it showed well.

Last night was the last performance of Evita at Van Nuys High School.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: This afternoon sees us in Hollywood at the Stella Adler Theatre for the Blank Theatre‘s production of “The Cradle Will Rock”. March 19 brings “Having It All” at the NoHo Arts Center. Lastly, March 26 brings “The Diary of Anne Frank” at Repertory East. April 2 will hopefully bring Glory Days” at the Lillian Theatre (pending ticketing). April 9 will bring the Renaissance Faire. April 16 brings “The Producers” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, with Lust N Rust: The Trailer Park Musical” at the Lyric Theatre on April 17. April 23rd, which is during Pesach, brings the last show of the current Colony season, “The All Night Strut” at the Colony Theatre. The last weekend of April is being held open (i.e., pending ticketing) for Brian Stokes Mitchell at the new Valley Performing Arts Center. May 7 will bring God of Carnage at the Ahmanson Theatre (pending Hottix). The weekend of May 12-14 will bring the “Collabor8 Dance Festival” at Van Nuys High School, which is always excellent. The third weekend in May is currently open, but I expect that to change. The last weekend of May brings Cabaret” at REP East on May 28, and (pending ticketing) Dear World” at the Lyric Theatre. June begins with “Year Zero” at the Colony Theatre on June 5, with the rest of June being lost to Confirmation Services at Temple and a college visit trip (but who knows — we might hit a show in Nashville or St. Louis). Lastly, July should hopefully start with “Les Miserables” at the Ahmanson on July 2 (pending hottix).