Here is a production so tight and efficient that not a second is wasted. It streams forth as a giant piece of engrossing story-telling. Interval is an annoying interruption.
The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of SA long has been noted for quality musical presentations; big shows which the professional theatre can no longer afford to mount. Its principals and even some of its chorus members have professional opera backgrounds.
Hence, Jared Frost in the role of Che, who narrates the sad and steamy story of Evita, is a member of the State Opera of SA Chorus. And it shows in his vocal accomplishment, not to mention the sense of authority he brings to the stage.
Evita is a well-known Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice rock opera which seems to be either passionately loved or hated by audiences. It depicts the life of Eva Peron, from tawdry would-be actress sleeping her way to the top through to veritable national deity. In the Webber style, it carries a thematic musical thread played upon from beginning to end. And, of course, it has the stellar iteration, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”.
Under the sleek direction of Gordon Combes, Tegan Gully-Crispe delivers Evita with a vocal stridency to reflect the vulgarity of the woman’s background and then, when she arrives at the big moment of “Don’t Cry for Me”, she produces a powerful operatic purity very cleverly adorned with just the hint of an accent. As it should be, it is a rousing and arresting highlight of the show. It is not alone. There also is a scene of utterly beautiful poignancy from young soprano Grace Carter, singing the deposed mistress’s song, “Another Suitcase, Another Hall”. Carter’s voice has an ethereal purity and she is clearly a performer to watch.
James McCluskey-Garcia embodies the great Juan Peron with dignity, restraint, and a terrible black wig. At the denouement, with Evita dying of cancer, he sheds real tears and the audience sorrows with him. James Nicholson portrays Evita’s first love, the tango singer Magaldi. He is just a joy with a gorgeous rendition of “On this Night of a Thousand Stars” and when interacting with Evita, a loving intensity in his eyes.
In all, this cast is highly focused, and its well-rehearsed discipline is pivotal to the quality of engagement it evokes in the audience.
The orchestra, under Jillian Gulliver, also is right on the ball, its volume perfectly balanced against the sound levels of the singers. If there are small glitches in sound, they are forgiven by the unity and harmony of the large ensemble, not to mention Sarah Williams’ well-drilled choreography .
The Arts is a generous old proscenium theatre well suited to big productions and with plenty of stage smoke, excellent costumes, a two-tiered set with split stairways, some interesting back projections, and classy lighting from Tim Bates, Evita shines forth as a rewarding night of musical theatre, well worth the modest ticket price.
Gilbert and Sullivan Society of SA is presenting Evita at the Arts Theatre, Angas Street, until October 2.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.