Not every popular musical opens and closes with its main character in a coffin.
Somehow, “Evita” has survived that eerie set of bookends to be a crowd-pleaser. And that’s what it was for the sold-out house last Friday at the Rochester Repertory Theatre.
“Evita,” directed by Aaron Rocklyn, is the latest in big, season-ending musicals at the Rep. Rocklyn’s shows sometimes seem more like parades than plays, what with the large casts he somehow crams onto the stage. But like other musicals Rocklyn has directed at the Rep, “Evita,” despite its obvious shortcomings — the set is not of the best quality and some of the singing wavers more than slightly — wins you over.
On the other hand, there’s one song for which the musical “Evita” is best known, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” and if you’re going to win over the audience, you better nail that song.
Mission accomplished for Lisa Modry, who plays Eva Peron in the Rep’s production. Modry, taking on a major lead role as the title character, opened the second act with a fine “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” There were times, though, when Modry, sharing a trait common with some other singers in this show, struggled to project her voice. Overall, she gave us an Eva who has, as one song says, “a little touch of star quality.”
Randy Peterson, as usual in his Rep roles, was strong in his portrayal of a self-confident character, in this case Peron, the president of Argentina. Peterson has no problems projecting his singing voice. Nor does Dave Stepan, who makes the pop star Magaldi, a colorful lounge singer. Dylon Starr carries the day as Che, who narrates, in song, Eva’s rise and demise.
“Evita” is set in the 1940s, and Cara Edwards’ costumes for this show are great, from actors in the chorus to Eva’s gowns. Music is by Jaymi Wilson, and choreographers Emily Whitcomb and Patricia Barrier somehow managed to keep, at one point, 10 dancing couples from twirling into one another.
Meanwhile, give Rocklyn credit for something important that could easily go unnoticed; 11 of the 26 actors in his “Evita” cast are making their Rep stage debuts in this show. He is always willing to develop young talent for the future.
The quality of the production can be debated, but there’s no doubt these large-scale season-ending musicals have been popular with the Rep’s audience. Next up: “Aida,” in May 2016.