Viva Evita!

Evita

Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice

Directed by Adam Fratto

At the Loeb Main stage

Through this weekend

STAND back, Harvard theater-goers. You want to know what you're going to get in Evita? Just a little touch of star quality. The Loeb Mainstage production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's last collaborative effort is without a doubt one of the best musical productions Harvard has seen in years.

The rock opera chronicles the meteoric rise of Argentina's Eva Peron, who began with "every disadvantage you need if you're gonna succeed./No money, no class, no father." Before she died at 33, Eva had risen to prominence as an actress, married military leader Juan Peron, helped him become Argentina's president and achieved near-sainthood in the eyes of the working class, known as the descamisados or "shirtless ones."

Not surprisingly, the part of Eva is the musical and emotional center of the show, and Jacqueline Sloan more than lives up to the challenge. From her first appearance as a scheming 15-year-old to her last pain-filled lament while dying of cancer, Sloan dominates the stage. When she finishes the show's signature song, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," the whole audience cheers along with the descamisados. In previous musicals, Sloan has been stuck with absolutely awful scripts and worse supporting casts, but in Evita she at last has the chance to shine.

As the first full-fledged student musical to play on the Mainstage in more than four years, Evita attracted a supporting casts, that any Harvard musical would envy. Every large number gets added energy and fire from the chorus' dynamic singing and dancing.

Pier Carlo Talenti certainly looks the part of Che Guevara, the South American revolutionary who narrates the show, but he's a little short on the cynicism his role requires. It's hard to sing and be sarcastic at the same time, and Talenti has clearly opted for the former. Talenti has a good voice, but Evita asks more of him than vocal skills, and he falls short of the play's demands.

As Juan, Eva's rather buffoonish husband, Dean Shapiro is appropriately clownish. His funny, well-acted portrayal of Juan's weakness serves as a counterpoint to Eva's sheer determination. He carries off the part well, though his voice could be stronger. Andrew Dietderich deliberately overacts as the other foolish man in the show--Magaldi, Eva's first lover--and is quite amusing.

By contrast, China Forbes is deadly serious and heart-wrenching as Juan's 16-year-old mistress. Her bluesy voice lends real anguish to the scene where Eva kicks her out. Forbes is clearly an up and coming Harvard star.

THE worship Eva Peron inspires is eerily reminiscent of fascism--the crowd chants "Pe-ron" over and over again--and Rebecca Shannon's excellent choreography heightens the resemblance by having chorus members thrust their arms out in rhythmic salutes. Shannon also makes good use of the Mainstage's ample space, as she balances different groups off one another. In "Peron's Latest Flame," for example, the aristocrats step lightly and delicately, tilting their cigarette holders in disgust, while the military men stomp across the stage swinging their arms.

The one sour note--and it is a particularly dissonant one--is struck by the sound system. In a show of this caliber, with the kind of money Mainstage shows get, it is inexcusable to have feedback obscuring the performers' voices. In addition, the accompanying rock band overpowers the singers voices. Even by the third performance these problems still hadn't been worked out. But sound problems aside, this Evita is, as Eva describes Buenos Aires, "certain to impress."