Make us your home page
Instagram

Review: Two incredible lead characters, plus excellent choral work and staging, make for superb 'Evita' at Stage West

Ensemble members Charles Kleber, left, and Anthony Agnelli, right, flank Jennifer Agnelli, who plays Eva Per?n in Stage West Community Playhouse’s production of Evita.

Courtesy of Carol Ballard

Ensemble members Charles Kleber, left, and Anthony Agnelli, right, flank Jennifer Agnelli, who plays Eva Per?n in Stage West Community Playhouse’s production of Evita.

I often wonder if casual patrons of the musical Evita appreciate just how incredibly difficult the show is to perform. Andrew Lloyd Webber's eclectic music styles — classical, ballad, Latin, rock — lightning-fast tempo changes and sometimes atonal, non-melodic sing-throughs, paired with Tim Rice's information-packed lyrics, are a challenge to performers and listeners alike. It's a show that may take more than one viewing to comprehend.

The production at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill playing through Sunday, March 19, goes a long way toward making that easier, thanks to several knockout performances by director Dixie Lay's superb cast, dynamic accompaniment by music director Carol Brown's orchestra, fine choral work by a first-rate ensemble, period-perfect costumes by Eileen Bernard and (mostly) appropriate dances by choreographer Sydney Campo, plus a great set, lighting and sound design and execution by a close-knit team of Stage West stalwarts.

Foremost in the endeavor are Jennifer Agnelli, playing the title role of the controversial First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death at age 33 in 1952, and Jay Garcia as Che, the commentator/narrator. These two are on stage most of the time and are in great measure responsible for maintaining the timing and pace of the show. Both do exceptional jobs, having mastered the vocal gymnastics required to do the roles justice.

Agnelli is a seasoned professional who has performed with Broadway national tours, and it shows in her every utterance and move — graceful, controlled and emotional, her mezzo-soprano hitting every note with precision. Her Don't Cry For Me Argentina and Lament are heartbreaking. Her acting captures the vibrancy and passion of María Eva Duarte de Perón as she moves from being an illegitimate slum kid to becoming a famous actress and radio personality to, finally, the most powerful woman in the country, both as the wife of the president and for being herself, revered to this day by the great majority of Argentinians.

Garcia is doing his first lead role, but you would never know it. He is as confident as any old pro, striding around the stage, relaxing on the stairs, his body language on point, his face a mix of cynicism and admiration for Evita, his voice right on the money in Oh What a Circus, Good Night and Thank You, And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out), and others. Both actors deserved the ovations they received opening night.

They are nicely supported by Brady Lay as the ambivalently ambitious Juan Perón — soldier, politician, lover and president; Lainey Poulis as Perón's mistress, her broken heart evident as she sings the sad Another Suitcase in Another Hall, and Charles Kleber as Augstin Magaldi, supposedly Evita's first love interest (though that's disputed by historians), crooning On This Night of a Thousand Stars and cautioning the naive young Evita to Beware of the City.

And kudos to the 20-member ensemble and their vocal coach. (Was it music director Brown?) They mastered the demanding Spanish lyrical chanting and moved about the stage smoothly, blending with the action and punctuating the most dramatic moments. The angelic voices of the children in Santa Evita were a joy to hear. The adagios by the uncredited couple during Act One set a romantic mood for the burgeoning romance between Evita and Juan.

The flaws are few — an over-enthusiastic percussionist at some points and a post-modern/contemporary dance sequence that doesn't seem to fit with the culture and era and goes on too long, even as Evita sings in the background.

That said, Stage West's Evita is a pleasure to hear and watch, showcasing the extraordinary talents of Broadway tour veteran Agnelli, heralding the elevation of Garcia as a candidate for any lead role in any show, and displaying a very impressive directorial debut for Lay.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Carol Brown was the music director for Stage West Community Playhouse's production of Evita. The music director's name was reported incorrectly in a review published March 17.

>>if you go

Evita

See the musical at Stage West Community Playhouse at 7:30 p.m. March 17 and at 2 p.m. March 18 and 19. The theater is located at 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill. Tickets are $25, reserved seating. Call (352) 683-5113.

Review: Two incredible lead characters, plus excellent choral work and staging, make for superb 'Evita' at Stage West 03/10/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 21, 2017 10:53am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Three ways to top toast anytime

    Cooking

    We're getting better and better at putting Things on Toast, a culinary category that's hard to beat for its versatility. Some spreads applied thin can boost flavor while creating a protective layer between crisp surface and squishy toppings. Good loaves of unsliced bread allow us to control the degree of thickness …

    Grilled Corn and Scallion Toast With Cilantro Crema
  2. St. Pete Coffee Tours offer a glimpse into the world of local craft coffee

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — What started as a small gathering of friends is now a growing business that has people hyped about St. Petersburg specialty coffee.

    At Craft Kafe, Jason Waits explains Kyoto-style drip coffee during a St. Pete Coffee Tour in May.
  3. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Tuesday May 30

    Events

    Finding Neverland: The hit Broadway show follows the story behind playwright J.M. Barrie as he struggles to find inspiration to create Peter Pan, until he meets four young brothers and their beautiful widowed mother. 7:30 p.m., Carol Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, …

    Mitchell Wray, Jordan Cole, Finn Faulconer and Ben Krieger as the Llewelyn Davies Boys in the National Tour of Finding Neverland. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
  4. Big rents and changing tastes drive dives off St. Pete's 600 block

    Music & Concerts

    ST. PETERSBURG — Kendra Marolf was behind the lobby bar of the State Theatre, pouring vodka sodas for a weeknight crowd packed tight for Bishop Briggs, the latest alternative artist to sell out her club.

    Sam Picciano, 25, left, of Tampa and Molly Cord 24, Palm Harbor shop for record albums for a friend at Daddy Kool Records located on the 600 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida on Saturday, May 20, 2017. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
  5. Restaurant review: Features Gastropub in Riverview is fine as movie theater fare, but unimpressive otherwise

    Food & Dining

    Movies aren't exactly dying. Despite all the sturm und drang of predictions that Netflix and streaming videos would kill the cinema, global box office receipts hit $38.6 billion in 2016, a 1 percent gain over the previous year. But that doesn't mean going to the cinema is precisely what it was a generation …

    Soft pretzels are displayed with a beer at the Features Gastropub in the Riverview 14 GDX  theater in Gibsonton, Fla. on Thursday, May 25, 2017.   The 5,900-square-foot Features Gastropub open in the . This element of the project is the brainchild of Philadelphia chef Brian Duffy, who appears frequently on NBC's The Today Show and the Spike TV show Bar Rescue