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Sunday, April 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 53.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
Arts

THEATER

Four Seasons Theatre presents a good-looking and -sounding Evita

Eva Perón (Amanda Poulson) captures the hearts of Argentina's poor and working class. More photos from the production can be viewed here.
Credit:Mike Brown
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It's been 30 years since Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's musical Evita opened on Broadway. In that time, like it or not, the iconic image of Argentine first lady Eva Perón, arms outstretched on the balcony of the Casa Rosada, has permeated our consciousness, along with the accompanying song "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." My 8-year-old daughter has sung snippets of the tune, and I don't know how she became aware of it.

Four Seasons Theatre presents a good-looking and -sounding production of Evita at the Wisconsin Union Theater through Sunday.

Some question the historical accuracy of Lloyd Webber and Rice's portrait of Perón, but the exploration of her rags-to-riches tale, studded with romantic liaisons, fame, high fashion, political intrigue and finally an early death, is ripe with entertainment.

The show opens with a movie being interrupted by the news of Evita's death and the ensuing outpouring of grief. The show's narrator Che, based on revolutionary Che Guevara (Chad Grote), begins his cynical account of Eva's rise. We first see her as a teen in a poor village who shrewdly uses her dalliance with tango singer Magaldi (Robert A. Goderich) to reach the cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires.

Once she's there, a series of affairs, and success as an actress and radio performer, put her in the position to meet Juan Perón (L. Joe Dahl), a powerful colonel in the army. Their relationship scandalizes Argentina's elite and military, but the duo capture the hearts of the country's poor and working class. After Perón becomes President, glamorous Evita embarks on a world tour that meets with mixed reactions (adored in Spain, dissed in England). Her charitable works earn her saintly status with her public, and despite her advancing illness she considers a bid for Vice President.

Amanda Poulson, playing Eva Perón, has just returned to Madison after a six-month stint as the lead singer on a cruise ship, and she has the chops to command this stage. She is a statuesque beauty with a strong voice who capably meets the demands of the role. Chad Grote is a good singer and brings a relaxed swagger to his role of Che.

Initially I wasn't enthralled with L. Joe Dahl's performance as Juan Perón, but came to appreciate him later in the show when he sings the lovely "She is a Diamond" and shares some tender scenes with Poulson. Samantha Mae Bock is a standout in the small role of Peron's young mistress who is pushed out by Evita. Her clear voice made "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" one of my favorite scenes.

Poulson is outfitted in beautiful costumes from designer Jenni Schwaner Ladd and is appropriately glamorous in stylish fur-trimmed suit, delicate lace dressing gown and smart Dior couture. Both Grote and Dahl are sporting cumbersome, somewhat unnerving wigs. Make-up and wig designer Jan Ross redeems herself through her excellent work with Poulson, who ages convincingly during the evening.

It is clear that a lot of care was taken by director Andrew Abrams and his crew. Choreographer Sarah McCalister created some visually interesting moments, faring best with simple yet striking steps. There are certainly talented dancers in the large ensemble, but not everyone can keep up, so the biggest production numbers "Buenos Aires" and "And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)" sometimes seem a little crowded and complex. I preferred her smart use of the rhythms in "Perón's Latest Flame" where aristocrats and soldiers scoff at the couple, rocking their chairs and clapping with smaller, precise steps.

The live orchestra should also be complimented for their contributions (a few squawky notes aside).

Evita is a large undertaking and Four Seasons, like Poulson in the lead role, handles it skillfully.

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