The Valdosta Daily Times
Live theatre works best when it inspires an audience to connect the dots.
A movie can make a viewer believe the characters are in a certain location because it was likely filmed in the location or computer graphics have painstakingly created a location. With a book, the partnership of writer and reader can create cities, mountains, oceans, limited only by the author’s creative spark and the reader’s imagination.
But with theatre, the creative team and the performers must populate and create everything within the proscenium framework of the stage. Good theatre is a master of suggestion. From performance to costume to sets and lighting, done right, a willing audience can make the leap.
The introduction of a large bed with the proper characters and costumes and the audience will fill in the blanks, connect the dots, to see the entire stage as a presidential bedroom. The right words, the right lights, the right blocking and choreography, a relatively small cast becomes a vast crowd, the audience becomes part of the crowd, a witness to a moment.
With “Evita,” Valdosta State University Theatre & Dance aligns all of the right dots for audiences to be transported to early to mid-20th century Argentina, to the world of Eva and Juan Peron and their rise to power.
Director Jacque Wheeler and choreographer Eric Brandt Nielsen infuse this Andrew Lloyd Weber/Tim Rice production with everything a willing audience needs to raise Sawyer Theatre from a stage within the VSU Fine Arts Building to the Argentinean stage of the Perons. Ruth A. Brandvik’s stark but evocative set designs, Genny Wynn’s subtle shades of lighting, Esther Iverson’s wide-ranging wardrobe of costumes, Allison Stephenson’s suggestive sound designs, Ree Seminole’s flawless technical direction, Michael Hadary’s layered vocal direction, Deborah Morgan’s textured dramaturgy, and DeAnna Key’s persistent stage management, all contribute star-like dots to this show’s design.
Back stage, conductor Joe Brashier leads an orchestra of live musicians who provide depth and emotional impact. The orchestra never overpowers the singers; yet, the evening would be nowhere near as complete without these musicians.
It is the stage performances that lead the audience from one dot to the next.
The cast is superb moving from military officers to Eva’s cuckolded lovers to the well-to-do Argentineans to the country’s peasants to various supporting roles throughout the production. The castmembers easily and believably move from being one type of character to another.
Blessed with an abundance of talented performers, VSU Theatre & Dance can spotlight different performers in its shows. This versatility of faces and talents has long been one of the organization’s immeasurable strengths.
But there are also faces and talents that seem to rise to the forefront during their seasons at VSU. “Evita’s” principals include three such student performers.
Ethan Parker is a Lowndes High graduate who has appeared in numerous VSU Theatre & Dance shows during the past few years, as well other area shows and concerts. As Juan Peron, Parker establishes his character’s rise to power via the masterful political musical chairs of “The Art of the Possible.” He weaves complexities into the character as a man of power who falls for a woman of even greater personal and political power — a woman he loves but a woman who becomes his assurance of maintaining power. Parker juggles and reconciles Peron’s conflicted motives with aplomb.
Will Stanley is another student performer making a mark on VSU Theatre & Dance, but don’t expect to recognize his face. He transformed his physical appearance to play the buffoonish Jourdain in VSU’s “The Would-Be Gentleman” to the murderous Henry in “The Skin of Our Teeth” to the love-struck Orlando in “As You Like It,” and now the cynical, comical conscience of Che in “Evita.” Stanley doesn’t just seem to change his appearance but he brings a chameleon’s palette to his walk and his talk creating something new for each character.
As Eva, Rebecca Morris, a Valdosta High graduate, fills the larger-than-life persona of this title character. Morris’ Eva is charming and intimidating, imperious and manipulative, giving and vulnerable. She towers above all, winning over all, save for the rock that is Che. Earlier this season, Morris played the memorable Rosalind in VSU’s production of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” With Rosalind and Eva Peron, Morris deftly handled two of theatre’s great female roles. Still, even performing in these dominant roles, she will graduate from VSU this spring with audiences wanting more.
This review is based on the opening night performance Thursday.
Valdosta State University Theatre & Dance’s “Evita” continues 7:30 p.m. today, March 29; 3 p.m. Sunday, March 30; 7:30 p.m., March 31 through April 2, Sawyer Theatre, Valdosta State University Fine Arts Building, corner of Oak and Brookwood. Reservations, more information: Call (229) 333-5973; or visit www.valdosta.edu/comarts