Don’t cry for me, Carson City

High school senior Andie Anderson is the highlight of Carson Performing Arts’ rendition of Evita

Andie Anderson in Carson Performing Arts’ <i>Evita</i>.

Andie Anderson in Carson Performing Arts’ Evita.

Photo by Scott Anderson

Rated 3.0

A great musical is like a gourmet meal. When quality ingredients unite, the dish is far tastier than the sum of its parts, and each course plays its part in the singular dining experience. Carson Performing Arts’ Evita is not that kind of show. It’s more like a buffet where some dishes are exquisite, others disappointing, and the lack of consistency makes it almost impossible to evaluate the play as a whole.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita is a musical biography of Eva Peron (aka Evita), the former first lady of Argentina. Born poor, Evita rises to fame and fortune, thanks to her beauty, charm and relentless ambition. As she matures and encounters the reality of politics, Evita confronts critics and her own inner struggles.

No performance of Evita could succeed without a wildly talented actress in the title role. It was a gutsy move for Madonna to star in a film version of the musical, and I was surprised to learn that Carson Performing Arts was attempting Evita with a high school cast.

However, I had not counted on Andie Anderson playing the lead role. Anderson is one of the best things to come out of the Carson Valley since the Comstock Lode. A mainstay of the local theater scene, Anderson is luminous in her most challenging role yet. She carries herself with the grace and confidence that epitomized Evita, and her voice is astounding. After the first few bars of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” I thought I had died and gone to Broadway.

Evita is the heart and soul of the play, but it is far from a one-woman show. The performance featured a cast of nearly 70, including a 17-member children’s chorus. Jeff Rogers is excellent as Che, the narrator and occasional voice of Evita’s critics. Jen Haddix makes a star turn in the relatively minor role of mistress.

The chorus members, on the whole, sing competently. Sadly, they spend most of the show fighting to be heard over an occasionally off-key 31-piece pit orchestra. Playing in a pit orchestra is no mean feat, since it violates every musician’s instinct to back off during energetic numbers. Yet, the best orchestras provide backup for the vocalists onstage, not a feature performance. In a show like Evita, where the entire story is sung, the play suffers when plot-advancing lyrics are buried under percussion and brass. The show would have fared better accompanied by a piano and a couple of guitars, or maybe a pair of mandolins.

Evita‘s main challenge is consistency. The costumes are great, the lighting cues choppy, the solos exquisite and the ensemble numbers confused. Some actors struggle to keep up, others look bored, and still others sing and dance their hearts out. Because of the glimmers of talent and the many truly wonderful moments in the show, the weaker spots are all the more disappointing.

Although Evita isn’t quite a runaway success, it is worth seeing Anderson’s performance. She has all the star potential of the character she portrays, and this may be one of the last opportunities to see this amazing high school senior before she leaves for college. The cast that backs her up is capable, but like Eva Peron herself, the members never get the chance to realize their potential.