Popular shows enjoying extended runs on stages of the Twin Cities

December 3, 2010.By Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press.

Live theater in the Twin Cities must be suffering in this economy, right?

Wrong.

Don't cry for Theater Latte Da, which just had its biggest hit with "Evita." Or for the Guthrie's "The 39 Steps," which just announced its second extension. And there's no need to break out the hankies for at least two other recent smashes.

"The 39 Steps" extended its run to Dec. 19 — and then Dec. 26 — when it became clear there weren't enough tickets to satisfy demand. The mystery-comedy's hit potential started bubbling months ago, when Guthrie staffers noticed subscribers were specifically choosing season ticket packages that contained the show.

"Once we started to see the renewal rate on subscriptions, we knew there was some traction," said Trish Santini, external relations director for the Guthrie. "The other place where we got confirmation, though, was that a lot of theaters in other cities are doing the show, and it's a hit everywhere."

Theater Latte Da's "Evita," which recently closed at the Ordway's McKnight Theatre, was scheduled for a five-week run but added two weeks before the first note had been sung.

"The week before we opened, we realized we had less than 15 percent of our total tickets still available. We needed to put more inventory in the market, so to speak," said Kimberly Motes, the theater's managing director. As a result, "Evita" sold more than 10,000 tickets, doubling Latte Da's previous record.

The results haven't been quite as dramatic for the Children's Theater Company's "Robin Hood," but the company did add an extra week when it became obvious that two months of Robin stealing from the rich and giving to the poor wasn't enough to meet demand.

And the Cabaret Theater at Camp Bar in St. Paul added performances of "Bye Bye Liver" as well.

What gives? The situations are different for each show, but they illustrate a few trends.

Three of the four shows are comedies; the other — "Evita" — is a musical. It never hurts to give audiences a show in which the lead character isn't going to spend two hours bemoaning the loss of her great love before being carted off to a mental institution.

"On the heels of a challenging election season, this show is a respite," Santini said of "The 39 Steps." "The Hitchcock thing (the show is based on a classic Alfred Hitchcock film) is a draw, just from what we're hearing from our patrons. And it's pretty evident from our description of the show that it's funny."

Bill Collins, managing director of the Actors Theater of Minnesota, which produced "Bye Bye Liver," describes the $19 ticket to his comedy about boozing as "a cover charge, basically, for an excuse to drink and party and have a good time."

"Our audience loves it when we commission new work," said Michael Harryman, director of communications for Children's Theater Company. "But we approach this like a business, and it is title-driven. You could not have (had 'Robin Hood's' level of success) with a title that didn't resonate with audiences.

"And when you put 'Annie' on stage or open the season with 'Bartholomew Cubbins,' as we did, you send a pretty loud message."

Three of the four extended shows are recognizable titles that come with built-in audience interest, and the fourth — "Bye Bye Liver" — is a play on a title audiences know. As a result, it's easier to communicate with audiences about the plays.

"Theaters are sometimes berated for focus-grouping seasons or for choosing seasons that are too safe," Harryman said. "But in this climate, there's no such thing as a safe season. The mix is important because you can tip too much to the other side if you do nothing but easily recognizable titles."

Motes said Latte Da might have lucked into the best of all possible worlds with "Evita," a popular title that had not had a major Twin Cities production since a touring company tangoed through town in 1999. The fact that it was an oddly familiar show for the usually adventurous Latte Da may have helped.

"I think people were wondering, 'I wonder what Latte Da will do with this show?' " Motes said.

The same can be said for "The 39 Steps." It recasts Hitchcock's sly thriller as a broad, vaudeville-like production in which four quick-changing actors play dozens of roles.

Said Santini, "Our cast has real resonance in the community. I don't think you can hear that Jim Lichtscheidl and Luverne Seifert will be in multiple roles and not expect something wonderful."

Harryman said it's crucial that CTC took a classic title and did something innovative with it. The theater's "Robin Hood," like "39 Steps," features four actors in multiple roles: "It's a very interactive concept. It's making people think about the context of the story and about the art of storytelling."

"At the end of the day — good economy, middling economy, bad economy — I think we all make choices based on what we perceive is a good use of our time and money. If 'The 39 Steps' speaks to people from the standpoint of, 'That's a fun way to spend a couple hours,' people will find a way to do it," Santini said.

Collins, who said social-networking sites such as Facebook and Groupon have helped move tickets for him, agrees that people are looking for a good time in exchange for their ticket dollars: "I'd feel differently if we were doing this business with 'The Merchant of Venice.' Then, I'd be thinking it was because the economy had turned around."

One thing's for sure. In the coming weeks — and as they plan their next seasons — ticket sellers from these theaters will be comparing notes. Motes says it's difficult to duplicate surprise successes — Latte Da won't try to dig up another musical about a South American dictator to do next year — but there are lessons to be learned.

" 'The 39 Steps' and 'Robin Hood' are really interesting, and I'm anxious to talk to those theaters," Motes said. "These hits tend to be a mix of things that come together in a perfect storm of artistic and marketing pieces. But there's also a buzz in the community. People are saying to each other, 'You've got to go see this show!' "

Chris Hewitt can be reached at 651-228-5552.

ABOUT THE SHOWS

"Evita" — Theater Latte Da, at Ordway's McKnight Theatre; closed Nov. 14; Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical about South American first lady Eva Peron.

"The 39 Steps" — Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis; through Dec. 26; $24-$60; Alfred Hitchcock's classic, featuring a battling hero and heroine handcuffed to each other, becomes a comic thriller in which four actors play dozens of characters.

"Robin Hood" — Children's Theatre Company, 2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis; through Dec. 12; $20-$40; the beloved story, performed on a minimal set with four actors playing multiple roles.

"Bye Bye Liver" — Actors Theater of Minnesota, at Camp Bar Cabaret Theater, 490 N. Robert St., St. Paul; through Jan. 22; $19; a series of comic sketches takes a look at folks who overindulge in booze.

Theater Latté Da Announces An Extension of EVITA Thru 11/14

November 14, 2010.By Broadway World News Desk.   Theater Latté Da is pleased to announce that Evita, which opens this Saturday, October 2 and was originally scheduled to close on October 31st will be extended two weeks to November 14 due to high demand for tickets. This production at the Ordway Center’s McKnight Theatre has already broken all previous box office records for Theater Latté Da.

“As we worked through the casting, design and rehearsal process, it became clear that we have an incredibly bold and exciting production.” Said Peter Rothstein, artistic director. “It’s thrilling to see such anticipation from the Twin Cities audience.”

The production is led by Peter Rothstein, director; Denise Prosek, music director; and Michael Matthew Ferrell, choreographer. The design team includes scenic designer Rick Polenek (Theater Latté Da’s The Full Monty); costume deigner Rich Hamson (Theater Latté Da’s Gypsy and Floyd Collins); and lighting designer Paul Whitaker, making his Theater Latté Da debut.

The role of Eva Perón will be played by Zoe Pappas who has been seen in several productions at the Ordway Center (Beauty and the Beast, Grey Gardens) and Chanhassen Dinner Theaters (Footloose, Les Miserables, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Producers, Grease). Evita marks Pappas’ third production with Theater Latté Da (Floyd Collins, A Man of No Importance). Playing the role of Che will be newcomer Jared Oxborough who was recently in Footloose! The Musical at Chanhassen Dinner Theaters and Beauty and the Beast at Ordway Center. Kevin Leines will play Juan Perón, and has been seen in several productions at Bloomington Civic Theatre (Man of La Mancha, A Little Night Music, Funny Girl). Paul Coate will play Augustin Magaldi and was in Theater Latté Da’s The Full Monty last fall. Jessica Fredrickson plays the Mistress and most recently was in Bloomington Civic Theatre’s Light in the Piazza.

Added Performances: Thursday, November 4 at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 5 at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 6 at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, November 7 at 2:00 p.m. Wednesday, November 10 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 11 at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 12 at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 13 at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, November 14 at 2:00 p.m.

Tickets for Evita are available for $23-$39 and are on sale now at www.ordway.org or by calling 651.224.4222. Group discounts are also available.

About Theater Latté Da: Theater Latté Da is a Twin Cities musical theater company recognized for its ability to connect artists, audiences and communities through diverse stories that are both entertaining and enlightening. The company seeks to create new connections between story, music, artists and audience by exploring and expanding the art of musical theater. For more information, please visit our website at www.latteda.org.

Support for the production of Evita is provided by St. Paul Cultural Star Funds from the City of St. Paul.

Evita

November 4, 2010.By John Townsend, Lavender Magazine.

Through Nov. 14 Ordway Center for the Performing Arts 345 Washington St., St. Paul (651) 224-4222 www.ordway.org

Theater Latte Da director Peter Rothstein and his astonishing lead actress, Zoe Pappas, ingeniously have navigated the paradoxes in this towering, political, music-drama classic. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice shape Eva Peron as a vindictive megalomaniac with rage toward upper-class arrogance. Ironically, once “Evita” and her husband, General Juan Peron (portrayed by the magnetic Kevin Leines), seize powe, they loot Argentina’s treasury in the name of “the people” and unions.

However, this numinous production elicits the humanity between the lyrics and within them. The ruthless language of political imaging and propaganda sears through Rice’s lyrics, realized viscerally through Denise Prosek’s music direction.

Jessica Frederickson devastates as The Mistress victimized by the Perons’ ambition. A fierce Jared Oxborough compels as narrator Che Guevara.

Michael Matthew Ferrell’s choreography, matched with Rich Hamson’s costumes, which cryptically dress the brilliant ensemble, create menacingly beautiful formations on Rick Polenek’s stately set. This breathtaking and hauntingly-majestic production vastly outdistances the Madonna film version.

KARE about the Arts: Theater Latte Da’s Evita

October 29, 2010.By Patrick Evans, KARE11.

St. Paul, Minn, - Theater Latte Da’s interpretation of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s mega hit ‘rock-opera’ Evita is wowing audiences and enjoying rave reviews at the Ordway’s McKnight Theatre.

Evita is an inventive and compelling look at Perón’s rise from illegitimate country girl to a symbol of hope and change for Latin America. She was both loved and reviled during her time as Argentina’s first lady. Perfect ingredients for high drama and emotion in life and on stage.

Zoe Pappas, who plays Evita and Jared Oxborough who plays the narrator/protagonist Che joined us on KARE NEWS@4 to discuss their roles. Both actors consider this an “opportunity of a lifetime.”

Evita is being performed through November 14. For more ticket information head to www.ordway.org or you can call (651) 224-4222. Group discounts are also available.

Evita at the Ordway’s McKnight Theatre: Play finds heart under the layers of dross

October 13, 2010.By Ed Huyck, City Pages.

Going in, Theater Latte Da’s latest production, Evita, was at a disadvantage. After all, the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical is no masterpiece. No, hold that–it’s a really terrible show, full of achingly bad lyrics (Tony Award-winning, by the way; another reason to question the validity of those prizes) and a score based on a handful of musical motifs that burn their way into your brain. “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” is probably the show’s best song, and it certainly isn’t wasted–the music is heard six times during the show.

So give it up for Latte Da for making Evita, now playing at the Ordway’s McKnight Theatre a genuinely pleasurable experience. The show moves briskly, the staging is excellent, and the performances–especially those of leads Zoe Pappas, Jared Oxborough, and Kevin Leines–carry the evening.

Evita follows the life of Eva Peron, who rose from poverty to become a star, then wife of the president, and finally a figure of religious reverence before her early death in 1952 at 33. The story is narrated by Che, who–while not Argentine revolutionary Che Guervera–is an Argentine revolutionary (or perhaps just that spirit manifested in a singing, dancing character). That gives us a skewed perspective on Eva Peron (Rice used a rather critical text of Peron for source material) and her works, which is certainly fine–I didn’t come in expecting a history lesson. The play certainly leaves a lot of room to explore the nature of fame and the differences between a public persona and the person who really lies beneath it all.

Rice misses most of these opportunities, but director Peter Rothstein finds the space to bring them out. He is aided by designer Rick Polenek, whose set carries much of the weight. The buildings that frame the stage are battered and scarred, decorated with black-and-white illustrations of the decades of the 20th-century turmoil in the country. All of that–and even a bit of knowledge of what happened in the country in the decades following Peron’s death–makes for a stark contrast to Eva’s personal story.

We watch her move way up Argentine society, starting out as the young lover of a musician, Agustin Magaldi, but abandoning him when she gets to Buenos Aires. From there she becomes a radio and film star before catching the eye of a rising military man, Juan Peron. Her charm entrances the nation, and the two are swept into power in 1946 on the promise of making the lives of the “shirtless” poor people better. As time goes on, Eva’s stake among her people and the rest of the world rises, but there’s always a question of who she is beneath all of the action. Rice’s book is skeptical of her intentions, but often rings false in the face of her charity work and obvious devotion to the people of the country.

Of course, coherency and Lloyd Webber/Rice musicals are often mutually exclusive–it’s often just about making spectacular moments. Several are sprinkled throughout Evita, from the obvious Act Two opener of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” to some of the Eva and Juan moments, to lament by Juan’s former mistress “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.” Unfortunately, this interesting character never comes back.

Many of the thrills here come from choreographer Michael Matthew Ferrell, who uses the tango as the production’s foundation, which works especially well as Eva “seduces” all those around in her rise to the top. Often, Ferrell pushes it toward the ridiculous (a line of dancing soldiers comes to mind), but it is a perfect place to go for this show and production.

The cast of 16 makes it all work, bringing off the characters and events with plenty of clarity, intensity, and emotion. Pappas brings out all sides of Eva, through not just her excellent voice but her command of the stage. Eva needs to be a larger-than-life, enveloping presence, and she has that from the very beginning of the show. The tall and graceful Leines gives Juan real elegance and brings out the character’s deep adoration for his wife, no matter what situation they are in or how dire the problems that surround them.

Oxborough gives the performance of the evening, however. Che is a fragmentary character, representing more of the spirit of revolution than a living, breathing person. Yet Oxborough draws out a real person–full of energy, disgust, and even rage. It’s a difficult role to do well, and he pulls it off with seeming ease.

Evita impresses but fails to inspire

October 7, 2010.By Brad Richason, Examiner.   Theater Latté Da has never shied away from ambitious projects. Such singular devotion to fostering musical theater has earned Theater Latté Da a reputation for unusually evocative productions. So it comes as a disappointment that the company’s season opener, an adaptation of Evita now running at the Ordway Center’s McKnight Theater, falls somewhat short of Latté Da’s expected standards. Despite impressive performances and inventive choreography, an unrelenting pace prevents the production from realizing its full potential.

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, Evita envisions a sweeping biographical portrayal of Eva Perón, the remarkably determined Argentinean woman who rose from obscurity to become a widely beloved national figure. Through her marriage to Juan Perón, President of Argentina, Eva used her elevated status to champion the causes of human rights, resulting in her eventually being bestowed the honorific title of “Spiritual Leader of the Nation.” Eva Perón’s extraordinary life makes for a captivating story, one that Webber and Rice endeavored to depict in all its contradictions and convictions.

In composing the music of Evita, Webber combined classical forms with flourishes of bombastic rock and traditional Argentinean styles. When skillfully integrated, what could have been a disjointed mess becomes instead an engagingly eclectic score. Achieving this essential musical alchemy is a challenging proposition even before attempting to incorporate the vocal acrobatics required by Rice’s history heavy lyrics. In large scale productions spectacle often glosses over performance shortcomings, but this more intimate adaptation gives the performers little cover. Thankfully Theater Latté Da has stacked the deck by casting Zoe Pappas, one of the Twin Cities’ finest musical performers, in the title role.

As Eva Perón, Zoe Pappas is given license to fully engage her dynamic vocal range. Pappas follows the tempo shifts with remarkable ease and never loses the emotional direction of the scene. Her character’s transition from self-serving ambition to humanitarian activism is rendered with enough zeal to restore luster to even the work’s most familiar number, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina. Standing before a striking crimson backdrop (one of scenic designer Rick Polenek’s many visual flourishes) and radiating a warm glow (courtesy of lighting designer Paul Whitaker), the iconic moment captivates with fresh vibrancy.

The supporting cast proves no less committed to their parts. In portraying the largely narrative role of Che, Jared Oxborough (after some issues finding the rhythmic cadence of Oh, What a Circus) projects a swaggering cynicism that never fully hides his character’s deeper conviction. This latent characteristic movingly rises to the surface on the delicately tuned High Flying, Adored.

One unanticipated highlight comes from Jessica Fredrickson who, playing what might otherwise be thought an excisable role as The Mistress, gorgeously evokes the pain of a discarded life with Another Suitcase in Another Hall. Further standouts include Paul R. Coates for his virtuosic take on Eva’s former love, Magaldi, and Kevin Leines who lends surprising warmth to the role of President Juan Perón.

Breathing further life into the work is the versatile choreography of Michael Matthew Ferrell whose energetic fusion of waltz, tango, and ballet is often mesmerizing. Ensemble movements such as Buenos Aires are attention-grabbing, but it’s the quieter scenes that make the greatest impact. For example, I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You - backed by Zoe Pappa’s radiant voice - is a showcase of sultriness.

But for all the admirable qualities of the performances, a persistent one-dimensionality sticks with the production. Much of this issue can be traced to a breathless pace that leaves precious little room for the subtle nuances needed to add depth to the characters and underscore the historical significance. And while director Peter Rothstein does a laudable job of keeping the work running smoothly, Evita’s storyline often feels like perfunctory exposition to the next musical number.

As an evening of entertainment, Theater Latté Da’s take on Evita is a worthy effort, offering moments of deeply resounding passion. Unfortunately such moments never fully coalesce into an emotional center, preventing Evita from becoming more than an exceptionally impressive exercise.

Evita runs at the Ordway Center’s McKnight Theater through November 14, 2010.

THEATER LATTÉ DA’S ‘EVITA’ AT THE ORDWAY

October 7, 2010.By Michelle Wilson, Twin Cities Metro Magazine.   Theater Latté Da’s production of Evita was–overall–very satisfying, save for one thing.

The black and white set was visually pleasing and intellectually stimulating, establishing the presence of the masses and effectively conveying both the power of those governing and the instability of politics in Argentina. But a person’s story is black and white only on the printed page, with her true character usually falling into some shade of grey. The “black” part of the Eva Perón (nee Duarte) legend depicts her as a power-hungry whore who fought her way to the top using her womanly charms, until that final stylized dance of seduction with Juan Peron. The “white” part of the legend, the sainted Eva, is not as solidly conveyed by the script, but the masses’ bitter mourning of her death would validate that she did much work to better conditions for the poor.

The costuming in the production was delightful, with Eva’s parade of outfits ascending from florid red, silky and sensuous, to high-fashion perfection, to saintly white by the play’s end.

Evita is, in my opinion, a musical with one memorable song, but that is enough when it is such a gem, and Zoe Pappas’ strong, clear voice did it justice. She portrayed Eva with control, dignity and strength, even encountering a costuming malfunction with a grace and ingenuity that won her mid-scene applause.

My dissatisfaction? The one solo by ensemble member Francesca Dawis left me wanting much more, but in this production that was not meant to be. My solace is that we are sure to hear more from this little dynamo for many years, as she is only in 10th grade.

Evita Through November 14, 2010 $35 – 39

Ordway McKnight Theatre 345 Washington St., St. Paul

Evita

October 6, 2010.By Quinton Skinner, City Pages.

Ordway McKnight Theatre

Theater Latte Da takes on Tim Rice’s and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical about everyone’s favorite Argentinean first lady with questionable politics. It’s not difficult to comprehend why this show keeps on ticking; in addition to its vivid and catchy tunes, it tells the story of a marginalized country girl who rose via the power of her personality to become a symbol of hope and transcendence. History has blurred some of the particulars of Evita’s story, but such is the fate of an icon–someone who served as a blank slate upon which all manner of aspirations and dreams could be sketched. You probably shouldn’t cry for her, though it’s worthwhile to take in her story. $19-$39. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Sundays. 345 Washington St.; St. Paul; 651.224.4222. Through October 31

Evita, a Theater Latte Da production at the Ordway McKnight Theater

October 6, 2010.By Janet Preus, HowWasTheShow.

Theater Latte Da’s production of Evita at the Ordway’s McKnight Theater is a fitting  meld of visual elements set in the perfect space. A versatile cast, limited in numbers but brimming with talent, created a seamless flow of scenes from the life of Argentina’s most famous first lady, cannily envisioned and executed by director Peter Rothstein.

What distinguishes this production is the cohesiveness of all the elements – a colorless unit set, stark and dramatic in its shades of black and white, set against an intensely colored backdrop at key moments; Eva Peron wearing reds against an ensemble in greys, taupes and crèmes; lighting that punctuated the story and guided us through the plot line.

Musically, this can be a complicated piece riddled with dissonance and stacked harmonies, but it was sung with finesse by the accomplished cast. Not all were professional dancers, but that just gave the dancing some rounded edges and a vulnerability that served the story well. Too slick draws attention to itself and gets cold fast. I liked the mix.

Kevin Leines was properly stiff and cool as Juan Peron, delivering the lyrics in his rich baritone with just enough emotion to find him an interesting enigma. Jared Oxborough certainly had the look and attitude for Che, charming the audience in this narrator role. His pop/rock interpretation of the music (since nobody else chose this route) was a puzzler, though.

Zoe Pappas (Eva) is a powerful actress with superb range and depth. She is blessed with an amazing voice, so why does she sing in that pinched, high-end, nasal style that seems to be the norm for mezzos and sopranos in musical theater? My companion said her ears hurt on the high notes. This should not be. My crusade to transform how we sing for musical theater marches on. Pappas is clearly capable of singing in any style she’s asked. So ask!

Jessica Fredrickson as the Mistress deserves a mention for the prettiest singing of the night. What a glorious voice – and a clean performance.

You couldn’t help but be impressed by how this show looked and sounded. But that’s it. It’s unfortunate that a show can be so well done and not move me, which is why I’m not a big Andrew Lloyd Webber fan. The difficulty in Evita – since her substantial flaws play alongside her virtues – is caring about her at all.

Nevertheless, there is more than enough to appreciate about the production so that – ALW fan or not – you’ll enjoy this solid and beautifully rendered show. It runs through November 14.

‘Evita’ – Big musical retelling of the story of a larger-than-life character

October 5, 2010.By Renee Valois, Pioneer Press.

Eva Peron's real-life story — starting with her birth date — has been much disputed, but it would be hard to argue that the musical based on her life is not entertaining. Theater Latte Da captures the passion of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Evita' with emotional performances and engaging staging at the Ordway McKnight Theatre.

Jared Oxborough provides a strong backbone for the play as the cynical, swaggering narrator of Eva's story (Che) while Zoe Pappas gives powerful voice to Eva, sometimes drowning out the musicians in her intensity.

The musical tale begins with Evita's death and the mourning of Argentina while Oxborough pulls out the stops as he belts out "Oh, What a Circus." Then we quickly leap back in time to when Eva is a 15-year-old setting her sights on a tango singer whom she persuades to take her to the "big apple" of Buenos Aires. Once there, she promptly pursues her dream of becoming a successful actress by sleeping with a succession of men who can help her, until she eventually hooks up with Juan Peron and convinces him "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You."

Jessica Fredrickson conveys poignancy in the ballad "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" as Peron's previous mistress, whom Eva tosses into the streets. This despairing song by a character we only see for a few minutes provides an effective counterpoint to Eva's rise, illustrating the downward path she could have landed on if fortune had not favored her.

In Rice's book, based on a biography critical of Eva Peron ("Evita: the Woman With the Whip"), she is portrayed as a woman who acted like she was caring in order to manipulate others — convincing the poor to help elect her husband president of Argentina by playing up her destitute origins and soliciting donors for her charitable foundation so she could siphon money to a Swiss bank account.

Although "Evita" makes the heroine self-serving, it also portrays her as larger-than-life — a potent dramatic cocktail in the hands of director Peter Rothstein, who uses overlapping action and a stairway on wheels to add intrigue and layers without descending into muddying complexity.

Music director Denise Prosek and choreographer Michael Matthew Ferrell effectively waltz though a wide variety of musical styles, from Latin dance to Catholic choral Latin. Kevin Leines ably conveys the personality contradictions of Juan Peron and Paul R. Coate gives Eva's first lover the right oiliness.

Although the story begins with death, in a sense it ends with a birth — of the myth of Eva Peron, epitomized in the song "Santa Evita," in which her sainthood is proclaimed by the peasants. There's irony in how she used her early life of poverty to galvanize the poor while she swathed herself in expensive jewelry and Dior fashions, futilely trying to gain the acceptance of the upper classes.

"Evita" provides an entertaining glimpse of a real woman who was much more complex and fascinating than any musical can convey.

What: "Evita"

Where: Ordway McKnight Theatre, 345 Washington St., St. Paul

When: Through Nov. 14

Tickets: $39-$29

Information: 651-224-4222; ordway.org

Capsule: A diverting version of the famous musical.

Latté Da tangos with ‘Evita’

October 4, 2010.By Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.   Theater Latté Da’s production of the well-known musical looks great, but the emotional power of Eva Peron’s journey feels slighted.

Theater Latté Da’s production of “Evita” is a gorgeous thing to behold. Michael Matthew Ferrell’s choreography accents a stylish, sophisticated approach with tango flavors. Denise Prosek’s band is perfectly attuned to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s diverse score, and the entire opera moves fluidly under Peter Rothstein’s direction. “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” will ring in your head for days.

“Evita” opened Saturday night in the McKnight Theatre at the Ordway Center in St. Paul with Zoe Pappas singing the legendary creature who held a brief love affair with adoring Argentinean masses before an early death elevated her to demigod status. Rich Polonek’s set uses a newsreel inspiration to render the black-and-white postwar era; Paul Whitaker’s lights have a stark resonance with that design, which allows Rich Hamson’s costumes to distinguish the color in Pappas’ Eva Peron. Only the sound was troublesome on opening night, demonstrating again the tricky limitations of amplified performance.

Yet, where is the soul in all this beauty? Even in her most unguarded moments, Pappas’ Evita struggles to elicit sympathy, and Jared Oxborough simply isn’t up to the passionate bravura of Che Guevara – who serves as the opera’s narrator. Rothstein has given us a production to admire rather than to feel.

Librettist Tim Rice tilts “Evita” toward the vision of a woman who schemes her way to a populist adulation with a calculating eye for media manipulation. Pappas often strikes us as a latter-day Lady Macbeth in Rice’s libretto, pushing Juan Peron (a colorless Kevin Leines) toward the presidency while she siphons money through her charitable foundation.

Showing a character’s warts is well and good, although here it throttles the enigmatic charisma that Evita obviously enjoyed. Her rare ascension from rural poverty to national icon cannot be reduced to a story of simple ambition that slights her mythic dimension.

Theater Latté Da Opens Its 13th Season With EVITA 10/2-31

October 2, 2010.By Broadway World News Desk.

Theater Latté Da brings Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock-opera Evita to the Ordway Center's McKnight Theatre. The production will preview September 30 and October 1, open on October 2 and run through October 31, 2010.

First Lady of Argentina Eva Perón was a legend in her time. An illegitimate country girl, she rose to become the most powerful woman Latin America had ever seen-a potent symbol of hope and change. Theater Latté Da takes a fresh look at this provocative telling of her brief and fascinating life.

Artistic Director Peter Rothstein states, "Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber created a new movement in music-theater: the rock-opera; Evita was at the frontlines of that movement. In my opinion, it is their masterpiece. It is innovative in form, challenging in subject matter, and simply compelling theater. For sometime we have wanted to do a production that highlighted the incredible talents of award-winning choreographer Michael Matthew Ferrell. Dance, particularly the tango, is essential to Argentine culture; thinking of Evita in terms of a dance-driven theatrical event makes complete sense to me."

The production is led by Peter Rothstein, director; Denise Prosek, music director; and Michael Matthew Ferrell, choreographer. The design team includes scenic designer Rick Polenek (Theater Latté Da's The Full Monty); costume designer Rich Hamson (Theater Latté Da's Gypsy and Floyd Collins); and lighting designer Paul Whitaker, making his Theater Latté Da debut.

The role of Eva Perón will be played by Zoe Pappas who is currently performing in Footloose! The Musical at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and has also been seen in several productions at the Ordway Center (Beauty and the Beast, Grey Gardens), Chanhassen Dinner Theaters (Les Miserables, Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Producers, Grease) and The Children's Theatre Company. Evita marks Pappas' third production with Theater Latté Da (Floyd Collins, A Man of No Importance). Playing the role of Che Guevara will be Jared Oxborough who is also in Footloose! The Musical at Chanhassen Dinner Theaters and recently was in Beauty and the Beast at Ordway Center. Kevin Leines will play Juan Perón, and has been seen in several productions at Bloomington Civic Theatre (Man of La Mancha, A Little Night Music, Funny Girl). Paul Coate will play Augustin Magaldi and was in Theater Latté Da's The Full Monty last fall. Jessica Fredrickson plays the Mistress and most recently was in Bloomington Civic Theatre's Light in the Piazza.

Tickets for Evita are available for $19-$39 and are on sale now at www.ordway.org or by calling 651.224.4222. Group discounts are also available.

About Theater Latté Da: Theater Latté Da is a Twin Cities musical theater company recognized for its ability to connect artists, audiences and communities through diverse stories that are both entertaining and enlightening. The company seeks to create new connections between story, music, artists and audience by exploring and expanding the art of musical theater. For more information, please visit our website at www.latteda.org.

Support for the production of Evita is provided by St. Paul Cultural Star Funds from the City of St. Paul.

Ópera “Evita” en el Centro Ordway de St. Paul

October 2010.By La Voz Latina.

La mundialmente reconocida ópera musical “Evita” de Andrew Lloyd Webber y Tim Rice, será presentada en el escenario del Teatro Ordway McKnight de Saint Paul desde 30 de septiembre hasta el 31 de octubre, en una interpretación realizada por el Teatro Latté Da, dirigido por Peter Rothstein y Denise Prosek.

Esta obra que destaca la vida de la legendaria Primera Dama Argentina, Eva Perón, será interpretada por la actriz de Minneapolis Zoe Pappas y también estarán como actors Jared Oxborough, Kevin Leines, Paul Coate y Jessica Fredickson.

María Eva Duarte de Perón fue la segunda esposa del presidente Juan Perón y fue considerada como “La Líder Espiritual de La Nación” por el Congreso de ese país poco después de su muerte. Su figura se volvió más famosa y reconocida popularmente a escala mundial tras el musical “Evita.”

Los horarios para apreciar esta obra varían y los tiquetes tienen también un costo que oscila entre $35 y $45 dólares. Mayor información sobre esta presentación en el sitio web www.ordway.org.

Evita.

2010.By Lavender Magazine.

First Lady of Argentina Eva Perón was a legend in her time. An illegitimate country girl, she rose to become the most powerful woman Latin America has seen–a potent symbol of hope and change. Theater Latté Da takes a fresh look at this provocative telling of her brief and fascinating life. Through Oct. 31. Ordway Center, McKnight Theatre. 345 Washington St., St. Paul. (651) 224-4222. <www.ordway.org>.

Run extended for ‘Evita’ at Ordway – even before opening

September 30, 2010.By Ed Huyck, MinnPost.   What does a theater producer like? Selling tickets. What do they like more? Selling enough tickets to extend a run even before opening night.

Theater Latté Da has the makings of the biggest hit during the company’s history with “Evita,” as the revolutionary musical just had its run extended for two weeks, now running from tonight through Nov. 14.

Producer and show director Peter Rothstein, to say the least, is excited about the sales, but he’s more excited about what audiences will see from the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical.

“We’ve wanted to do a piece that is more dance-based for a number of years,” Rothstein says.

Part of the appeal was to create a showcase for choreographer Michael Matthew Ferrell. In the end, they reached into the traditional dance of Argentina, the tango, for inspiration.

The focus on dance will make for a unique version of the show – which as Rothstein notes – has a script that is nearly bare of stage direction. “It’s like Shakespeare in that regard. I can count on one hand the number of stage directions in the show,” he says.

The focus on movement led the production down new alleys. “We’ve made a lot of bold decisions for the piece for costumes, set and lighting,” Rothstein says.

The cast features Zoe Pappas as Eva Peron, Jared Oxborough as Che, Kevin Leines as Juan Peron, Paul Coate as Augustin Magaldi and Jessica Fredrickson as The Mistress.

In the end, “this is a production that is more opera than musical. That thought has been liberating – we’ve found a lot we can do with that,” Rothstein says.

“Evita.” 7:30 tonight through Nov. 14 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts’ McKnight Theatre, 345 Washington Street N., St. Paul. Tickets are $19 to $39. For tickets, call 651-224-4222 or visit online.

OPENING: ‘Evita’

September 30, 2010.By Graydon Royce, Star Tribune.

Theater Latté Da returns to the Ordway’s McKnight stage for this Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacle, starring Zoe Pappas, with Jared Oxborough as Che Guevara. To prepare for this piece, artistic director Peter Rothstein traveled to Argentina in search of tango atmosphere. “We wondered, ‘What if we approach the whole work like it was a tango?’” Rothstein said. Music director Denise Prosek has orchestrated the score for tango instrumentation, and Michael Matthew Ferrell has developed choreography with an eye on the dance form that is a national cultural tradition of Argentina. Rothstein said he found the presence of Eva Perón unmistakable in Buenos Aires, nearly 60 years after her death.”Every block has posters of her,” he said. (7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat. & Wed., 2 p.m. Sun Through Oct. 31. Ordway Center, 345 Washington St., St. Paul. $19-$39. 651-224-4222 or www.ordway.org.)

‘Evita’ extension

September 30, 2010.By Rohan Preston, Star Tribune.   “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” has a new ring. And it sounds something like ka-ching.

Director Peter Rothstein’s production of “Evita” for Theater Latté Da has been extended even before opening. This Twin Cities revival of the show by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber has added two weeks of performances to its run at the Ordway Center’s McKnight Theatre.

It opens Saturday and will now close Nov. 14.

“We had only 15 percent inventory left and that was before opening,” said Latté Da managing director Kim Motes. “The response has been amazing. I think that people know that Latté Da and Peter will bring out the soul of the piece.”

“Evita” opened on Broadway in 1979. It made a star of Patti LuPone, who won a Tony in 1980 for playing ambitious Argentine first lady Eva Perón. The Latté Da production is set in a tango nightclub and stars Zoe Pappas as Eva. It is choreographed by Michael Matthew Ferrell, who has infused the show with tango throughout.

Call 651-224-4222 for more info or go online.

Latté Da’s ‘Evita’ extended

September 30, 2010.By Kathy Berdan, Pioneer Press.   It doesn’t open until Saturday, but Theater Latté Da’s production of “Evita” is selling so well its run has been extended to Nov. 14.

Originally scheduled to close Oct. 31, “Evita” has broken all previous box office records for Theater Latté Da. The title role will be played by Zoe Pappas, who has been seen in several productions at the Ordway Center (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Grey Gardens”) and Chanhassen Dinner Theaters (“Footloose,” “Les Miserables”). This is her third production for Latté Da.

Tickets are $39-$23 and are on sale now at ordway.org or by calling 651-224-4222.