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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 4.22.10

 

The Fashionable Fascist 

Evita lands in Cottage Grove

by Suzi Steffen

Juan Peron (Ken McClintock), Eva Peron (Melissa Miller) and Che Guevara (Tony Rust)

Who can resist South American political intrigue set to a rock ’n’ roll score with narration by Che Guevara? Leave it to Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber to make an impoverished teenager sleeping her way to the top and hooking up with a fascist dictator seem not only glamorous but like a series of inspiring life choices.

I am completely addicted to the musical Evita and have long been jonesing for a local production. While Cottage Theatre delivers the thrill associated with this musical, the cast does not present the slick, rhinestoned production I was expecting. This is due largely to Melissa Miller’s atypical Eva Peron. More earthy than goddess, more scrapping street girl than glamorous siren, her interpretation of this iconic role shows spunk and creativity, and can be best appreciated by leaving preconceived notions at home. 

Complimenting Eva is Ken McClintock’s oily Peron. His broad smile and slow, purposeful movement make for the perfect South American dictator. His mistress is cast at an accurate age, delicate actor Courtney Cannell being no more than 16. It lends a fragility to her situation and a sleaziness to Peron that enriches the production.

The chorus is massive, nearly 40 people. Reading through the cast bios, I noted a number of parents and children, husbands and wives, teachers and students, co-workers. This may account for the folksy feel of the production, which seems to be as focused on Argentine peasantry as the leaders.

The chorus doesn’t quite match the brilliant set by Fe02; simple black paint, silver duct tape and muted light installations create a 1940s-inspired sharp scarcity. An Art Deco screen looming above claims audience attention by flashing period photos of Peron’s Argentina. Costumes flow brown and black and white across the stage, with the exception of Eva’s signature red. Eva’s costumes, which are half the thrill of any Evita production, are hit and miss — at most times stunning, at others frumpy, with one of her wigs so ill-fitting I was distracted. 

The show kicks along, largely due to the boisterous energy streaming out of the orchestra. A little too loud, always rockin’, it’s as if the really talented boys playing in the garage next door never grew up and moved out, just got better and louder. I am assuming that as this play runs, the technical problems that led to unevenly blended sound will be worked out.

What Evita lacks as a credible history lesson (be sure to read Tony Rust’s interesting director’s notes), it makes up for in entertainment. It delivered my dancing dictator and singing solider fix in an unconventional way. While this show could be more cohesive, it probably couldn’t be more fun.

Evita runs through May 9 at Cottage Theatre in Cottage Grove. Tix at www.cottagetheatre.org or 541-942-8001.