Curtain Call: Evita: Not your father’s production

Don’t think that if you’ve seen this play years ago or the movie version of Evita, that you probably know what to expect with ACT of Connecticut’s current production of Evita. This is not like anything else that you’ve seen before, but it’s a show that you absolutely must see. It’s so good, once will not be enough. It’s that special.

What’s so different about this production? Directed by ACT’s artistic director Daniel C. Levine, what was old is now new again. With the precision of a plastic surgeon, he transforms a former seven-time Tony Award-winning musical into a stunning more youthful, more Latinx, and more relevant production.

Eva (Julia Estrada) sings “You Must Love Me” to Juan Peron (Ryan K. Bailer), indicating she at last realizes he loves her for herself rather than what she has done to advance his career. — Andrea Valluzzo photo

Yes, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s fantastic music and Tim Rice’s memorable lyrics are still intact and rendered exquisitely by music director Evan Roider, cast, and orchestra, but oh, the difference once the old is gently pulled away and the new shines through fresh and young. Even Charlie Sutton’s choreography is more free, not so regimented. Lively.

Julia Estrada is the title character, whose story is as fantastic as it is tragic. She steps out of the low- and middle-class outfits of Eva Duarte into the elaborate wardrobe of Argentina’s First Lady Eva Perón. Estrada manages to look delicate and even fragile at times while leaving no doubt that she has the Broadway pipes along with her crystal clear soprano. When she sings Don’t Cry for Me Argentina, the audience inhales her performance, until they finally exhale in an explosion of wild cheering.

Angel Lozada plays Che, but not the critical soldier or aloof man standing off to the side. In this production, he is the young and fervent political activist, always in the middle of things. Lozado’s spectacular performance, rock tenor voice and his amazing falsetto got this critic standing and shouting “Bravo!” He’s incredible to the nth degree.

All of the voices are strong and masterful. Whether it’s Latin, pop or jazz, the music sails smoothly. Ryan K. Bailer as Perón has the stance of an officer and the powerful persona of a country’s leader. He is dignified as Perón and a strong singer.

Marlena Lopez Hilderley plays the mistress with great poise and Julian Alvarez as Magaldi lights the night with at least a thousand stars. Overall, the entire cast including a children’s chorus is outstanding. The costumes are colorful, the scenery minimal, but the props spot on adding to a sharp, clean production.

This is one of those plays that you will regret if you don’t get to it. It plays through Nov. 11 at the ACT of Connecticut in Ridgefield. Box office: 475-215-5433.

Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]