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Evita, the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice quasi-opera about the rise of an Argentine chorus girl to near sainthood, is still powerful 40 years after its Broadway debut.

And there are plenty of powerful moments in the touring production that hit the stage Friday night at Little Rock's Robinson Center Performance Hall, under the auspices of Celebrity Attractions.

Evita is the real-life, if somewhat musically glamorized, story of small-town Argentine girl Eva Duarte (Yael Reich), whose overweening ambition takes her from backwater poverty to the Argentine "big apple," Buenos Aires, where her negligible acting career becomes a springboard to the attention of similarly ambitious, though overcautious, Col. Juan Peron (Gary Barton). They take over the government, but accusations of corruption and a virulent cancer eventually bring her to a tragic and early end.

Director Andy Ferrara's staging is superb, especially the bigger production numbers, with effective and sometimes dazzling choreography that never overshadows the show. His ensemble cast is young but highly effective.

Reich's enormous voice has an edge that allows her to play Eva's ambitions perfectly, but it also saps the character's likeability and potential audience sympathy, which is important as she begins to physically decline throughout the second act. She acted her way through Evita's signature song, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," which usually works as well or better if it's just sung. But she does shine in "You Must Love Me," transplanted from the Madonna movie version.

The absolute best moment of the show is Madeline Ellington's showstopping rendition, as the mistress whom Eva replaces in Peron's bed, of "Another Suitcase in Another Hall." Lance Galgon does a capable job as Che Guevara, the sometime-Argentine Latin American revolutionary whom Webber and Rice make into a combination musical narrator, foil for Evita and all-around cynical rasp.

Barton, besides a powerful tenor voice and plenty of acting chops, bears a surprising physical resemblance to the photos of Peron projected onto the enormous LED screen that provides historical footage and substitutes dramatically for expensive and space-occupying backdrops, including some very effective images, including the stained-glass church window and projected candles in the "Requiem for Evita."

Otherwise the two-level set is minimal, though it under-uses the balcony -- you need one for Eva to beg Argentina not to cry, of course -- and otherwise consists of carry-on furniture and sit-able boxes, and a coffin, with which the show opens and closes. Cuing some transitions into and out of blackouts is a bit disruptive. A live band plays in the pit, which is a bonus for a touring show of this kind.

Evita returns to the stage at 2 and 7:30 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday at Robinson, 426 W. Markham St. at Broadway. Ticket information is available by calling (501) 244-8800 or online at ticketmaster.com.

Metro on 03/16/2019

Print Headline: THEATER REVIEW: Staging, screen images elevate Evita at Little Rock's Robinson Center

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