'Evita' by Newtown High School Drama
Nancy Sasso Janis
OnStage Connecticut Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle
"I get out here, Buenos Aires
Stand back, you oughta know whatcha gonna get in me
Just a little touch of star quality…”
Bethel, CT - ‘Evita’ is an old friend to Newtown High School Drama director Jane Matson. The first time she performed in the musical, she was a senior at Newtown High School and then she did the national tour of ‘Evita’ many years ago. As a result, she loves the story and the score by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, as I do. The director chose to do her old favorite this year because she knew that she would not be able to use the Newtown HS auditorium due to renovation at the school. The Walnut Hill Community Church graciously offered them the use of their beautiful theatre and welcomed them with open arms, just as they had done for the NewArts wing of the 1214 Foundation’s productions last summer. Ms. Matson sensibly thought that approaching the show as if they were setting up for a tour might be a valuable learning experience for her students. “The ability to package a show and drop it into a venue is a skill that our young performers, who choose to go into theatre, will need.”
The director/music director/choreographer, who has been the Choral Director at Newtown HS for seven years and earned her B.S. in Music Education from WCSU, worked with her dedicated producer, NHS English teacher Janice Gabriel for the sixth time. Brett Boles served as pit conductor of the 21-piece orchestra. I counted five students among the adult musicians and because they sat stage right with their backs to the audience, they sounded amazing without overwhelming the voices.
The staging of this historical piece was impressive at every turn at the final dress rehearsal that I was fortunate to attend. There were black and white projections of the Perons and others, but the action on the stage took us where we needed to be. There was a lovely tango number embedded in “Charity Concert/I’d be Surprisingly Good for You” that benefitted from the input of the Associate Choreographer Allie Indelicato. Next to the first act closer “A New Argentina” in my copy of the program, I simply wrote “Wow!” I loved the energy of “And the Money Kept Rolling In” and the montage of Eva’s life was also made a strong impact.
The cast and crew of almost 66 included six freshman students. The male ensemble was a standout for me. I asked Ms. Matson what her secret was to getting the nine guys to dance so well and she credited lots of “do it again.” These young men danced in lockstep unison as uniformed soldiers in both acts and supported the talented female dancers in the dance ensemble gracefully. Oh and they sang in wonderful harmony to boot! Kudos to Ben Albee, Jack Armstrong, Jack Bittman, Will Crebbin, Barrett DeYoung, Michael Killeen, Aidan Moulder, Brooks Petershack and Jacob Schultz.
Joseph Verga’s performance was an excellent interpretation of the nagging character of Che. This NHS senior sang extremely well and danced nicely in his military boots. Charles Romano was the first man Eva used, the singer Magaldi, and also sang well.
The uber talented NHS senior Julia Bogdanoff took on the title role and was simply amazing as the actress who went on the become the first lady of Argentina. I remembered her from her song “Bless the Lord” in ‘Godspell’ at The Brookfield Theatre for the Arts. Ian Fuchs matched the young actress’ performance in the role of her driven husband Juan Peron.
Teah Renzi, a junior, sang perfectly in the role of Peron’s dismissed mistress who sings her number “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” and is never heard from again. This young performer was part of the female ensemble of the 2016 Richter production of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
The simple set rental was coordinated by Ms. Gabriel, Ms. Matson and Technical Director Brian Tenney because they were unable to build their own. Ashleigh Shaw and Jim Shea designed the lovely lighting. The pitch perfect costumes were designed by Marie Armstrong; Evita went from one spectacular ensemble to another and the aristocrats were impressive in black and white. The dance and vocal ensemble looked the period in the muted colors of their costumes that allowed them to move easily.
‘Evita’ runs March 23-25 at 7pm and March 25-26 at 2pm and don’t forget to head to the very nearby Walnut Hill Community Church for the performances.