story of its heroine by removing the massive cast and the elaborate dance numbers for which the beloved stage show first became known.
On the medium-sized stage at Andrews Hall – in the historic Sonoma Community Center, just off the Sonoma plaza – wooden planks, scaffolding and a brilliantly employed piece of moving machinery take the place of the ornate sets usually employed for musicals of this scale.
Originally announced as a “staged concert,” the show, as directed by Lauren Miller, exists somewhere in between a concert and a full-production. Though the blocking of the tight nine-actor cast tends a bit to often towards the static – with several people standing in a line, striking slightly stiff poses while singing straight out to the audience – what this approach lacks in dynamism and visual energy it more than makes up for in helping tell its story simply and clearly.
Ellen Toscano, a ten-year-veteran of San Francisco’s Beach Blanket Babylon, deploys her stellar singing voice as Eva Peron, who started out as a middle class dreamer from the outskirts of Argentina, became an actress and screen celebrity, and worked her way up to become the first lady of her country, the wife of the dictator Juan Peron. Though a bit physically rigid at times, her face is constantly alive with emotion, ranging from resolve to disdain to love to anger to pain, and sometimes all at once.
As her politically ambitious husband, Juan, Michael Conte strikes the perfect tone of austere authority, and his voice is magnificent. As the narrator Che, who steps in and out of the story – frequently offering challenging perspectives in the form of wry commentary – Robert Dornaus is also quite strong, climbing up and down the set pieces, leaping to the audience floor, even operating the man-lift at a crucial moment, easily giving the shows most varied and animated performance.
In the small part of Peron’s kicked-to-the-curb mistress, Fiorella Garcia delivers one of the show’s most powerful moments, singing the lovely “Where do we go from here,” and as Eva’s lounge-singing first conquest, Tod Mostero is appropriately smarmy, smitten and entertainingly surprised at being less in control of his hungry paramour than he assumed.
The ensemble is in fine voice throughout, though at times they seem to be wishing they has more to do then file onstage, sing beautifully, and file off again, though perhaps this is the remaining vestiges of the original “staged concert” concept.
All in all, the miraculous thing about this production is how well the parts that work, work, especially the marvelous moment when Toscano sings the show’s most famous number, “Don’t Cry for me Argentina.” I won’t spoil the surprise of how the song is staged, but it’s truly delightful and inventive.
Perhaps most surprising of all is how pertinent and powerful this story feels today, as it traces the way that politicians often take advantage of the people they claim to be wanting to help, using them to gain the power they need to take control—then convincing them that they’ve delivered what they promised, even when they have done the exact opposite.
‘Evita’ runs Thursday through Sunday through Feb. 5 at Sonoma Arts Live, at the Sonoma Community Center. www.sonomaartslive.org