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Home arrow Reviews arrow Reviews By Scott arrow Reviews By Scott arrow Don't Cry for Casa Manana...Evita is a Tour de Force
Don't Cry for Casa Manana...Evita is a Tour de Force PDF Print E-mail
Feb 05, 2011 at 11:00 PM

Casa Manana is presenting Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webbers' Evita, the musical based on the life of First Lady Eva Peron, the second wife of Juan Peron, the President of Argentina.

Casa Manana, was an outdoor theater originally conceived  by Fanny Brice's songwriter husband Billy Rose (It's only a Paper Moon”, “Me and My Shadow”) in 1936 for Fort Worth Frontier Days.  The original Casa was gone almost as soon as it opened, but was resurrected in the fifties in it's current space.  While still recognizable for its roof that is reminiscent of a popped container of jiffy pop, the interior space under went a complete remodel in 2003 and the former theater in the round was transformed into a more intimate space with a modified thrust stage.  One thing that hasn't changed is the regular appearance of Ruta Lee in Casa productions.

The Casa Manana Organization presents touring shows at the amazing Bass Hall in Downtown Fort Worth and produces its own shows at the theater bearing its' name utilizing both local and national talent.  It was interesting that while two of Evita’s  cast have extensive Broadway Credit, fifteen of the cast of twenty five were local actors.  Now on to the show...

The stage was simple, but as we saw last year in the touring production of Dreamgirls' video can be a very dramatic addition to any production.  The opening finds movie theater patrons learning of the death of Peron when the movie is stopped and an announcer states “Eva Peron entered immortality at 8:25 hours this evening...”  The large screen atop the back of the stage recounts with historical photos the reaction of a country that lost one of its' most beloved citizens.

Our journey back to Eva (Evita is an affectionate nickname for Eva) as a fifteen year old and through her life is guided by both the video screen and Kevin Gray as Che.  Che is a no fan of Evita's and tells us the unvarnished version of this woman’s rise to power, a rise that took her from obscurity and poverty to a successful radio career in Buenos Aires to the role of First Lady of Argentina.  Che tells us how she climbed the ladder to power one bed at a time, eventually landing in Juan Perons'.

Eva is smart, calculating and goes to any lengths to get what she wants.  It is at a charity event that she meets Peron, an army colonel and in a secret rendezvous after the event she tells him how she can help him rise to great power. She goes home with Peron, throws his current mistress out of his bed, and into the street.  The mistress is no slacker either, demanding Eva's mink before she goes quietly.

And help him she does.  She helps him rise all the way to the presidency and nearly becomes vice president herself.  Evita is a gay mans dream.  She is a true diva in every sense of the word.  She knew what she wanted and she went after it, and she did it all in fabulous fashion.  Christian Dior was her favorite.  She truly was the woman behind the man and probably ran the country as much if not more than her husband did.

It was interesting to watch her rise to power fueled by the frustration of her country with their extreme suffering, they were incredibly poor, struggling just to feed their families.  They were frustrated that no one seemed to care about their plight.  There were two classes the very rich and the very poor.  Sound familiar?  What Eva brought to the table is that she was both.

I found this production fun to watch and the thing I most enjoyed was that it was not the watered down fare that I so often find in the theater today.  Seriously, Shrek, The Musical. I admit is was fun, but it all these shows based on movies because people know them and there is less of a risk financially is becoming tedious.  Here you have a real show.  Not a package of bubble gum Broadway.

I always like to point out the standout actor in every show, the one who stands out and really makes the show, Evita has two stars.  Kevin Gray, whose Broadway credits are too long for me to list here made the show for me.  His character is essential, as the narrator of the story, but more importantly he tells the story Evita would never tell herself.  I trusted his storytelling more than the words of Eva's own mouth because of her ambition.

The other star of the show was the choreography.  The spot on execution of the difficult design of the dance in this production is a tribute to the cast and the choreographer.

Evita plays at Casa Manana Theater in Fort Worth through Sunday, February 13th.  Tickets are $40. to $65.  Don't worry about where you sit, Casa is a great space, an intimate theater, there is not a bad seat to be found.  Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com.

Get ready now for Casa Manana's final production this season....Hairspray.  August 13-21.  I wonder if they have cast Edna yet????

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