Evita

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All summer long, we have been anticipating and dreading “Evita.”

Talk from MJ Productions about how it would be more than just a regular community theater presentation made us eager for that to be true. Remembering that a lot of people say that sort of thing about a lot of shows that are actually quite ordinary made us fearful. If “Evita” turned out to be mediocre, we would never hear the end of it.

And then the show opens and turns out to be a stunningly professional production. It has all the highly polished bells and whistles and boisterous talent it needs. I stop short of saying it’s Broadway-quality, but I’ve certainly seen touring-company shows that did not have their acts together as well as this one.

I don’t know why no one ever does “Evita” around here. It is about a woman who slept her way to the top, true. But that aspect is handled discreetly — even amusingly, in this production — and musicals with more alarming content than that are performed frequently. The vocal range is not unreasonable, nor the melodies too complicated. This staging, manufactured by MJ Productions and put on at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre, proves that the talent necessary to perform it exists in Utah Valley.

Brooke Martin plays Eva Duarte Peron, the poor young actress who connived her way into First Ladyhood and manipulated herself into a saint, at least as far as the people of Argentina were concerned. Martin’s voice is outstanding and unfailingly strong. The show’s signature song, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” is captivating: Eva — not the actress playing her — is insincere when she assures the people that she has no desire for wealth or fame. Yet despite the irony, the song is beautiful and the moment priceless.

Martin infuses Eva with vulnerability to match her ambition, a truly tortured soul without refuge.

Another great voice, that of David Tinney (who also choreographed), is heard as Che, a revolutionary who is the show’s narrator and Eva’s moral opposite. David Weekes is convincing as Juan Peron, the military leader who finds himself powerless to resist the force of nature that is Eva. All the way around, the performers are not actors who can sing or singers who can act, but bona fide singer/actors.

Susan Web’s steely set design and Timothy Young’s multi-functional lighting are strong assets to the show, as are Tami Crandall’s refreshingly authentic costumes. The sound, by Kristofer Harrison, suffered some drawbacks opening night but ultimately proved effective.

The show is accompanied by the live, six-member band Party Train, led by J Bateman. The 26-year-old songs, by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, sound new.

Marcie Jacobsen’s musical direction is flawless, and I’m impressed, even startled, by J. Scott Montgomery’s work as the show’s director. The indecorous humor of “Good Night and Thank You,” the raucous street scene of “Buenos Aires,” the touching pathos of “Requiem” and “Oh, What a Circus” — all of these disparate elements are handled with grace and skill. Given the level of difficulty in pulling the thing off, Montgomery and “Evita” have succeeded fabulously.

Should you go? Be aware of the mild PG-rated material, but yes, go and see what your friends and neighbors are capable of when they put their minds to it.

Opening night of this show, Sept. 6, was rained out. As much as people like farmers allegedly needed the rain, it's gotta suck for a cast to have its opening night canceled. So the de facto opening night was Sept. 7, which is when I saw it. On that night the band disappeared for a few minutes, causing a late start. And then, once the show was actually ready to start, there were technical difficulties that delayed it further. It was a full 25 minutes past the hour before it actually got underway -- and then Che's microphone didn't work. I thought, "We're in for a long night." Fortunately, that was the last of the major problems and things ran smoothly from then on.

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