‘Evita’ Impresses at the Hopewell Theatre

By J.E.Ballantyne Jr.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Evita, the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that has enjoyed huge success in the United States and London, served as an ambitious endeavor for the small venue of the Hopewell Theatre on Mahoning Avenue this past Friday evening.

This is not their first musical but is certainly their largest. The operetta -style musical tells the story of Argentina’s First Lady, Eva Peron, and her rise to power and fame from her lowly background. It is a music-heavy show with scant dialogue here and there.

Written for a large cast, the Hopewell opted for a cast of 15 with chorus people wearing many different character hats. There were times this worked well but the main driving forces in the show are Eva, portrayed by Maureen Gorman Stenglein, and Che, played by Matthew DiBattiste.

It was obvious from early on that these two were the engine that drove the train the entire evening. Stenglein is an impressive Eva Peron with a strong belty voice and equally strong acting that showcases the super-manipulative character of Peron. From her first appearance. she has a firm hold on the character and it only gets better as the show progresses. You look forward to her next scene, which was usually only minutes away. She had too many vocal highlights to pick out just one.

DiBattiste is powerful and commanding as Che, the cynical commentator to the events in Eva’s life. With a smooth acting and singing style, DiBattiste powers his way around the stage, providing biting insights into Eva’s motives and her future. He was particularly impressive with “Rainbow Tour” along with “And the Money Kept Rolling In.”

The role of Juan Peron, president of Argentina, is ably handled by Tom Gent. Although not as visible a role as Eva, his presence and power are necessary as Eva stealthily usurps his power on her climb up the ladder. Gent’s rich voice and acting added strength to a character who gradually diminished in Eva’s shadow.

Garry Clark (good to see him back on stage) played Magaldi, a smooth night club singer early in the show and one of Eva’s first conquests. Even though he sold the song “On This Night of a Thousand Stars” well, it seemed like he was always on the verge of really taking off with the character but never seemed to reach that point. He also showed up as numerous other characters including one of the generals.

Keri Jennings added a nice touch in her portrayal of Peron’s mistress and did a beautifully muted rendition of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” as she is summarily dismissed by the arrival of Eva.

This is a very heavy chorus show. They play a more integral part in the show than in many musicals. Unfortunately, they were a bit iffy for much of Act I but seemed to catch their stride with “A New Argentina.” Their connection to the show seemed much stronger in Act II. With some first-timers involved, they need time to gain experience.

Director Marlene Menaldi Strollo and musical director Ed Phillips have put together a good cast, particularly with the leads and have molded an impressive production for the small venue of the Hopewell. Choreography by Lori George is sparse and doesn’t add a great deal to the production. Costumes by Strollo were good and reflected the period. The multi-level set is minimal but worked well on that stage. Phillips handled the three-piece band well, which sounded like much more.

If you haven’t been to the Hopewell in some time, check it out, It is a nice place to view local theater.

Nov. 1, 2 at 7:30 p,m.
Nov. 3 @ 2 p.m.
Hopewell Theatre, 702 Mahoning Ave.
330 746 5455

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