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.