Students bring Argentina to the Professional Stage
The story of poor, little Eva Duarte who manipulated her way to the top in Argentina, is fascinating. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical has been popular since it was first staged in London’s West End in 1978 and then on Broadway in 1979. This epic tale is now on stage at London’s Grand Theatre as this year’s High School Project.
Evita is a huge undertaking for high school students; so wisely, the part of Eva is divided among five young actresses, each taking a role at a different stage of her life.
Little Eva (or her term of endearment, Evita) is born in poverty in rural Argentina. At age seven, she (Amber Sellars) is chased away from her father’s funeral because her father had a wife and family in another town: her mother was the mistress and Eva and her siblings were illegitimate. At 15, Eva (Jordyn Taylor) takes up with a tango singer at the local bar, and convinces him to take her to Buenos Aires, Argentina’s Big Apple. Of course, once there, she dumps him and takes up with other men, using them to further her desire for fame.
By age 20, Evita (Leyla Boyacigil) is a famous actress and radio personality in Argentina – her curly brunette hair is soon bleached blonde and styled in the signature Evita-look. At a charity event, she imposes herself on the handsome Colonel Juan Peron. He falls under her spell. Soon, they are married and she works to get him elected president of Argentina. As First Lady (Mikela Marcellin), she travels Europe with Peron, charming the public on their Rainbow Tour.
But back in Argentina there are questions of her spending, so to endear herself to the common people of Argentina, she sets up a charity for the needy. She becomes known as Eva the Saint (Izabella Majewski), and the poor people are enthralled with her. But how much of that charity fundraising goes straight to her own purse? Nevertheless, beloved by the people, Eva is mourned at her funeral when she dies of cancer at the young age of 33. The five students portraying the life of Eva do an excellent job of handing off to the next stage of her life.
The story is narrated by Che, played perfectly by Keith Ssemugenyi. His singing in “High Flying, Adored” and other numbers is powerful. Justin Eddy is excellent as Magaldi, the tango singer that Eva uses as her ticket out of her small town. Peter Nye is Juan Peron, giving a good interpretation as a loving husband falling completely under Eva’s spell. Lauren Gillis has a compelling solo in “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” as the mistress whom Eva kicks out when she moves in with Peron.
The ensemble is outstanding with strong harmonies in the many chorus numbers. A show completely presented in song, Evita provides a great platform for solid ensemble singers, and this group of students does not disappoint.
The High School Project is an excellent opportunity for students in London and area to work with theatre experts in a professional setting. This year there were 67 students taking part: nine main characters and 35 in the ensemble on stage, 18 in the crew working on props, scenic art, wardrobe, stage management, etc., and five in the orchestra. The new involvement of Sheridan College will also be of benefit to those young people who are considering further education in the performing arts.
For fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber, this production offers an excellent student interpretation of Evita.
Evita (High School Project) continues at the Grand Theatre, London until September 30. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.
Photo: The High School Project presents Evita. Photo by Claus Andersen.
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed & Choreographed by An Alexandra Smith
Musical Direction by Andrew Petrasiunas
Performed by Students of the High School Project
Grand Theatre, London, Ontario
September 19 to 30, 2017
Reviewed by Mary Alderson