This surprisingly sparse rendition of the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber musical tribute to Argentina’s legendary Eva Peron arrives almost 20 years to the day after “Evita” made its American debut at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, under the direction of Hal Prince. Re-staged and choreographed by Larry Fuller (the Tony-nominated choreographer of the original), this production features four Latinos in the major roles of Eva (Natalie Toro, alternating with Ana Maria Andricain), Che (Raul Esparza) and Peron (Raymond Jaramillo McLeod). But this commendable casting doesn’t add any pizzazz to an undernourished outing that seems a bit lost on the cavernous Pantages stage, overwhelmed by the show’s enormous overhead screen (offering historical photo) and nearly bare stage setting. Much needs to be reconsidered before this production aspires to Broadway.
Completely lost here is the dynamic precision and pinpoint rhythmic pacing of Prince’s original staging. Fuller has lent the onstage action a loose, nightclub-revue flow, allowing songs to dissolve rather than reach a clear resolution. Production numbers are woefully limp, hampered considerably by the director’s unimaginative “actors who can move” level of choreography. And the supposedly reorchestrated score, aimed at infusing the instrumental accompaniment with “Buenos Aires salsa rhythms,” has about the same level of Latino authenticity as a society orchestra playing “Tea for Two Cha Cha.”
Within this inadequate setting, however, Toro is a jewel. She is totally creditable as the spitfire, lower-class teenager who unabashedly beds her way up the ladder of success (“Goodnight and Thank You”), eventually willing herself to become the spiritual leader of Argentina as the wife of President Juan Peron. Toro’s emotionally versatile voice adapts perfectly to the seductive “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You,” the ironic “The Actress Hasn’t Learned,” and the cathartic “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”
Esparza’s Che is responsible for moving the plot along, but the actor always appears to be a half beat behind the action and never convincingly embodies his character’s point of view. His light but well-modulated tenor is displayed to good effect on such ditties as “High Flying Adored,” “Dice Are Rolling” and “Eva’s Lament,” but almost disappears during the energetic “Oh What a Circus” and “A New Argentina.”
McLeod is quite effective as the vacillating leader of Argentina despite displaying a few pitch problems in his “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You” and “Dice Are Rolling” duets (with Toro). Also notable are the brief outings of Tom Flynn as the comically egotistical cafe singer Magaldi (“On This Night of a Thousand Stars”) and Angela Covington as Peron’s woeful, castoff young mistress (“Another Suitcase in Another Hall”).