“Evita” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ February 29, 2016


Mainstage Theatre, Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s dynamic through-sung score for “Evita” sets off a melodically dramatic faux historic view of Argentine dictator Juan Peron’s wife, Eva, who failed to win world support for Peron’s corrupt regime.  She attempted the deed to further her ambitions to share power with Peron.  The strong Phoenix Theatre production under Robert Kolby Harper’s briskly paced staging captures the musical’s pulsating drive as it reveals the ego-centric title character.

Where this production suffers is star Alyssa Chiarello’s Eva.  The actress seizes the character’s driving ambition to bring attention to herself as she leverages her alluring sexuality to win Peron and her country’s adoration.  Chiarello’s unusual singing grates and one suspects that her unpleasant vocal histrionics drove away three packed rows of patrons sitting in front of me at the intermission.

Chiarello sings strongly in her higher register and she sails through the show’s famous anthem “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” rather well.  When she drops to a lower register to bring a forceful huskiness to her songs, her tone becomes unpleasantly nasal.  It appears that she hoped this guttural, shrewish sound would establish her underlying distrust of Argentine citizens as well as the hypocrisy of her stated concern for her people and Eva’s desperate need that attention always be focused on her.

Thus, Chiarello’s Eva is only partially successful in an otherwise savvy production that boasts Rusty Ferracane’s strongly dominate and majestically sung Peron plus a fine Che, the show’s narrator, in Michael Sample.  Sample originally understudied this role but when the actor originally cast sustained a serious injury Sample replaced him.  That an understudy could assume such a pivotal role at the last minute and so effectively explain Eva’s malicious intents is remarkable.  The rest of the fine cast essay supporting players in the historic tale as they slyly comment negatively on Eva’s actions.

Director Harper’s pulsating pacing never wanes and this is a critical element for a successful  “Evita” production.  Even though PT resource limitations prevent the use of a gigantic turntable like the original production, the show swirls to each new locale as the artfully designed sets slide into place almost duplicating the original production’s intent.  Superb costumes establish each stop in the musical’s long historic period and Alan Ruch’s spot-on orchestra plays the Lloyd Webber score forcefully.

Phoenix Theatre’s “Evita” captures the mood and feel of the historic period it covers and the characters it exposes.  If the star’s performance was better, this would be a flawless production.  “Evita” continues through March 20.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: B