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Friday, June 19, 2009

Stand Back, Buenos Aires: PN's Evita

Tonight is the opening night for Performance Now's production of Evita, one of a handful of productions of this musical to open in the Denver area this year, and the one that should absolutely be on your "must see" list. (For a Big Bad Wolf sneak peek, see yesterday's blog.)
"Why is that?" you may ask. (Or you may not ask that, but I'm a bit of a hack, and I need a way to get this article started, so let's just say you asked.)
Is it because of director Gary Hathaway's unique interpretation of this story? That's absolutely a big part of it. Gary Hathaway remains, in my opinion, one of the boldest and most creative directors in town. Gary's philosophy seems to be: if you're just going to give audiences what they were expecting, then why bother at all? I couldn't agree more.
Gary warned me before I dropped in on his last couple of dress rehearsals that "this is not your grandmother's Evita," and I say thank the night of a thousand stars for that.
Too many companies attempt to present musicals just as they've been seen a hundred times before, and you know who you are (actually, sadly, they probably don't.) The gods of Denver musical theatre have smiled upon us with directors like Gary Hathaway, Steve Wilson, and Chris Willard.
I don't want to spoil any of the surprises that Gary has in store for you, so I will simply reiterate: this is definitely not your grandmother's Evita. That's why you should see it. Or, at least, it's one of the reasons.
Another is the powerful ensemble of performers that bring Gary's bold vision to sparkling life. Ranging in age from six to well, obviously I didn't ask at the other end of the spectrum, this chorus boasts some of my favorite performers, most of whom have headlined a show themselves. Linda Suttle, Bailey Walton, Alannah Moore, Melissa Morris, Danielle Hawkins, Kristin Hathaway, and many others imbue this production with a musical theatre brawn, the likes of which are seldom seen in community theatre. By the way, it should be noted that this is an all local cast.
I only mentioned women, you say? Hmm, so I did. Have I ever told you about how I got the nickname "Wolf?"
Okay, let's talk about the guys. Richard Moore brings a timely pathos to the stalwart Juan Peron. There is a delicate edge to his booming baritone, and in his portrayal we see the conflict of an ambitious politician and a man very much in love with his wife.
David Kincannon rises (and surprises) in a bit of non-traditional casting as Che to become the night's master of ceremonies and leads the audience ably and jaw-droppingly from the gentle ballad "High Flying Adored" into the rousing show-stopper "And the Money Kept Rolling In."
All of these elements contribute greatly to a fantastic night of musical theatre, but there is yet one reason still not to miss this show. (See, I told you I was a hack.) One reason that should overcome any and all excuses that might stand in the way of getting your back end, backside, badonkadonk, behind, booty, bottom, bum, butt, derrière, fanny, fundament, gluteus maximus, haunches, hindquarters, patootie, posterior, rear, rump, seat, tail, trunk junk, tush, tushy, and whoopie cakes into one of the very comfortable seats at the Lakewood Cultural Center is the lady in the title role, Alisa Vaughters.
Warning: you will have to endure a bit more gushing from this point forward.
After all, how can one not gush about a performer like Alisa? Firstly, she seems entirely too pretty to be doubly blessed with such amazing vocal prowess. This heightens the contrast between the beauty of the young Argentine actress Eva Duarte and the ambitious political and social climber who would become Evita Peron. No matter how thoughtless or "shrewish" Eva becomes, we are always drawn back to the angelic features and irrepressible charm of Alisa. Our conflicted feelings about this woman and her story are amplified in a way that perhaps few audiences of other productions have seen.
When Alisa stands on the balcony and sings the well-known and oft-
clichéd "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," you will forget that you've heard it before. You will forget every parody or bad rendition that has ever insulted your ears. You will forget that you are sitting in Lakewood, Colorado, clutching in your lap the program of the little theatre company that could, the brain child of the late Nancy Goodwin, who wanted to bring high-quality musical theatre to suburban audiences without the hefty ticket price. You will forget that you aren't sitting in a hundred-year-old theatre at 53rd and Broadway in New York. I certainly did.
This production of Evita is a grand realization of Nancy's dream, and Performance Now has become a treasure of Colorado theatre.
Those of you who know me know I wouldn't go on like this about a show I didn't really, really like.
So get your tickets before they sell out. (And they will.) This show runs just three weekends. See for yourself what a group of local performers and designers can do.
If you don't agree with my assessment, well, you can just kiss my whoopie cakes.

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