Theatre Review: “Evita” at Indianapolis Civic Theatre

"Evita" stars (ltr) Philip Christiansen, Mikayla Anne Reed, Collin Poynter

Last Thursday night I drove to the Marian University campus on the west side of Indy to see the Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s production of “Evita.” 

It was a “wow” experience.  I mean, wow.

Why I Went

I went to this show mainly because I thought it would be good for my on-going theatre education.  I had never seen “Evita” before, but according to the press release that I received from Civic’s media person, Ulrike Steinert, this show won seven Tony Awards when it was on Broadway in 1980, including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Book for a Musical.  It also won six Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics, and nine L.A. Drama Critics Circle Awards including Distinguished Achievement.  The music is by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  The lyrics are by Tim Rice.

I was also particularly interested in Indy Civic’s production because it was directed by Ryan Koharchik.  I have raved about his clever set and lighting designs many times in the past, but I don’t think I have ever seen a show before that he directed. 

And finally, I just wanted to hear Mikayla Anne Reed sing again.  I loved her funny, musically beautiful portrayals of Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors” and Veneera Glossover in “The Zippers of Zoomerville” (at the Phoenix.)  I think the first time I ever heard her sing was in Civic’s production of “Aida,” when she portrayed the transformation of Amneris from a ditz to a leader.  (That was pre-blog but I wrote about it here on IndianaAuditions.com.)

What Surprised Me

On Thursday night, Mikayla did something very different from her previous roles.  She brought Argentina’s sexy first lady Eva Peron to life and showed her unique transformation from a nobody to a saviour .  She showed me that Eva Peron was a fascinating woman: frighteningly ambitious…fiercely, calculatingly passionate…and yet somehow touchingly vulnerable to the end of her short life.  She was a manipulator, but likable, and very human.  I now understand why so many people in Argentina loved and/or feared their “Santa Evita.”

I also understand why Madonna was so eager to play her in the 1996 movie.  Talk about icons.  (Note to self:  see if the public library has the Madonna movie to borrow.)

When the house lights came up on the cliff-hanger ending, the woman sitting in front of me said to her friend, “Well, now my interest is piqued.”  I, too, want to learn more about Eva Peron’s life and death.

Under Ryan Koharchik’s skillful direction and Brent Marty’s skillful musical direction, not only Eva Peron’s life but a whole segment of Argentina’s volatile history came to life in a way that resonated with me personally, to my surprise.

For example, when the beautiful young actress, Eva Duarte, and the dashing military/political leader Juan Peron (Philip Christiansen) meet for the first time, they sing to each other, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You.”  I cried both because of their steamy chemistry, which I wanted for myself – and which was accentuated by an even steamier tango duo (Vickie Klosky and Rick Shinkle) dancing nearby – but also because I couldn’t help wondering: is that all that love amounts to?  A bargain?

I cried some more when Eva efficiently packed off Peron’s Mistress so that she could become his wife.  Angela Manlove’s rendition of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” was heart-rending.

But I cried the most near the end, when Eva was dying and Juan was trying to tell his generals that she was a true diamond, not a mere bauble, and that she did a lot of the things for their country that he and the other men had only talked about.  Philip Christiansen made me believe that whether or not Juan Peron truly cared about the Argentine people or not, he did love his unusual wife.

When I wasn’t weeping, I was listening with my mouth open and my tongue touching the back of my teeth in an attempt to keep me grounded.  Mikayla’s voice powers at you like an opera singer’s at times.  It is a force that is as, well, forceful, as Eva’s real personality must have been.  A LOT of energy pours through the audience from every vocalist in this show and the story moves quickly, just as the events in Eva’s life did.  It is all easy enough to follow, but you can’t let your attention wander even for a moment.

When I think of musicals, I think of “la, la, la.”  You know:  light and fluffy.  This is so much more than that.  It is about love and power and corruption and service.

What Delighted Me

There are many visual pleasures as well as aural ones in this show.  Set pieces slide in and out and up and down in inventive ways, including from a marble vault beneath a sweeping double stair.  Silhouettes appear in unexpected places.  None of this is distracting, “just” very cool.  Director Ryan Koharchik’s set and lighting designs are treats in themselves, as usual.  Joanne Johnson is the stage manager.  Troy Trinkle is the technical director.  Janet Sutton is in charge of properties.

And the gowns!  Eva Peron came from poverty, so when she made it big in the Argentine “big apple” – Buenos Aires – she apparently gorged herself on gorgeous clothes and jewelry.  Jean Engstrom’s numerous costume designs and Debbie Williams’ numerous hair and make-up designs are glamorous.

And the dancing!  With rifles!  And flags!  And chairs!  And newspapers!  And pounding heels and graceful, rounded arms!  Michael Worcel’s diverse choreography is a satisfaction throughout the show and at times, a hoot.

Certain members of the ensemble skillfully play a variety of roles, from peasants to aristocrats to generals to body guards and more.  All members of the ensemble are admirable.  The ensemble includes:  Vince Accetturo, Allison Ackmann, Jeremy Allen Brimm, Tommy Bullington, Jordan Clark, Stacy Embry, Darrin Gowan, Linda Heiden, John Kern, Jo Ann Klooz, Vickie Klosky, Ben Kundick, Matthew J. Lindblom, Nadia Lovko, Angela Manlove, Sarah Miles, Carrie Morgan, Paul Nicely, Betsy Norton, John D. Phillips, Katie Rae, Rick Shinkle, Rory Shivers, Noelle M. Steele, Steve Wrighton, and Adam Wyckoff.

The children’s ensemble members also serve as peasants and sing a moving number on their own.  The children include Anthony Boler, Noah Bush, Lauren Frank, Aaron Huey, Veronica Manges, Joseph J. Mervis, Morgan Patrick-Roof, Gabbie Rothchild, and Brett Wainscott.

I loved watching the back of conductor Brent Marty’s head as he looked down to his orchestra under the stage and then up and out through a small hole in the stage to the vocalists and dancers.  Again, it wasn’t distracting, just fun.  The orchestra sounded full and lovely yet was in good balance in terms of volume with the singing.  Sound design was by Michael J. Lasley.  I especially admired the drums and other percussion, which my program says were by Frank Niemiec and Angel Velez, respectively.

The other orchestra members include:  Al French (orchestra manager/bass); Anne Day and Cindi Sifers on violins; Laura Cones, Andy Ross, Andrew J. Elliott on cello; Mary Bowman, Susan Buckwalter, Lisa Halcomb, Barbara Howes, Dorothy McDonald, and Shawn Plonski-Goodman on woodwinds; Jeff Anderson, Steve Pfoser, Brian Hoover, and Chris Draybn on French horns; Jim Hicks on trombone; Mark Gray on guitar; Janet Anderson and Jill Wynalda on keyboards; and Todd Hawks on piano.

There are even more people listed as the Production Crew.  I grinned again and again at one of the spot light operators up on the cat walk before the show but it took until intermission before he smiled and waved back at me.  BUT he and all of the other members of the crew seemed to do an excellent job with their actual work.  I didn’t notice any “bobbles” anyway.

The Biggest Surprise and Delight

I loved Ryan Koharchik’s direction, I loved Mikayla Anne Reed’s singing, dancing, and acting, and I learned a lot from seeing this show…all as expected.  I was surprised by how much the show moved me, and I was delighted by several aspects of it.

I have saved the best delight for last, however:  I was, and am, completely smitten with Collin Poynter’s appealing portrayal of Che Guevera, the chatty, sometimes cynical, sometimes affectionate commentator for the show.  This fearless, almost jester-like character is a special treat that makes all the rest both richer and more accessible.

Box Office

From the press release:

SHOW DATES:  September 11 through September 27, 2009

SHOW TIMES:  Thu. 7pm, Fri. & Sat. 8pm, Sun. 2pm

TICKETS:  $25 (Thu.) and $32 (Fri.-Sun.), group discounts available

BOX OFFICE:  (317) 923-4597 or BUY TICKETS ON-LINE at: www.civictheatre.orgLOCATION: 3200 Cold Spring Road, Indianapolis, IN 46222, on the campus of Marian University

Update – 9/20/09 – I read  Rita Kohn’s review of this show in Nuvo this morning and couldn’t believe I had left out of my own review Paul Nicely’s slimy-sweet portrayal of Agustin Magaldi, the crooner who reluctantly helped Eva get to Buenos Aires, where she promptly dumped him when she found someone else who could get her up the next step of the ladder to success.  Paul, I apologize!  I definitely had your performance in the “delight” category.

I’m also curious why Rita didn’t give the show a complete five stars instead of four, but maybe it was because she had to park over by the baseball fields?  I also forgot to say in my review that if you go to this show, be prepared to walk, even if you get there early. (But the campus is lovely, so it’s a nice walk, and there is no charge to park.)

I also realized this morning that I had left out Michael J. Lasley as the sound designer, so I popped that into the orchestra paragraph, above.  Michael, I apologize to you, too.  And dear readers, if you decide to go to this show, be sure to listen for Michael’s deep, yummy voice doing the recorded curtain talk.

‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and @IndyTheatre on Twitter.com

6 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Evita” at Indianapolis Civic Theatre”

  1. Hey,
    So glad that you enjoyed the show!
    P.S.
    I don’t know if you remember me, but you also wrote a review of when I was in To Kill a Mockingbird at IRT last February.

  2. Great review, Hope. Glad to hear you enjoyed the show. I thought it was wonderful! Oh – and Ryan Koharchik also directed Aida – so if you saw that, you saw his last directorial effort. I think he’s great!

    (And yes – my hubby’s voice IS yummy, isn’t it?? lol!)

  3. I am going Friday night.I was lucky enough to visit the Civc costume shop while jean was building the clothes as always stunning. I am a huge fan of Evita. Upon arriving home from Japan (12 hours) I went to Starlight that night and saw an amazing production. AS a matter of fact I have seen every production of Evita that has either been local or a tour in Indpls. While at Costume World I had the chance to design the show for the Gateway Playhouse

  4. Joey, aka Dill, thanks for reading and leaving a comment! How fun that you are performing in theatres all over Indianapolis!

    Thanks, Marni, for your kind words and for reminding me that Ryan Koharchik directed “Aida.” I loved that Civic show, too.

    Stephen, thanks for your comments, too. Some day I’d like to hear more about the “Evita” costumes you designed in Florida for the Gateway.

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