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Theater Review

Commanding 'Evita' Offers Star Quality

May 14, 1999|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES THEATER WRITER

After housing phantom murderers and falling chandeliers twice since late 1997, the Pantages Theatre is finally home to "Evita," the one Andrew Lloyd Webber / Harold Prince collaboration that's truly worth the popular adulation that usually goes to their "Phantom of the Opera."

This touring "Evita," previously reviewed at Orange County Performing Arts Center, brings the show back to the city where it had its American premiere 20 years ago (at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion).

Under the direction of the original choreographer, Larry Fuller, who retains most of Prince's magical staging, this production packs plenty of dramatic excitement per square foot of stage--and per performer. This is one Lloyd Webber show that doesn't rely on physical design, though Richard Winkler's lighting is spectacular.

Natalie Toro has a commanding, take-no-prisoners presence as the lower-class girl who becomes a star, though she also uses amusing sideways glances to put over some of the irony (Ana Marie Andricain plays Eva at three performances each week). Raymond Jaramillo McLeod is a big, magnetic Juan Peron, who looks like the clear winner even from the very beginning of the brilliantly staged musical-chairs game among the Argentine generals. Raul Esparza makes the most of Che's (that is, lyricist Tim Rice's) caustic counterpoint, which provides the show with its intriguing ambivalence toward its central character.

That all of these top-billed actors are in some way Latino is more a public relations note than a matter of substance. True, they usually use the correct Spanish pronunciation of Argentina, but none is South American, let alone Argentine. However, a tango that's more genuine than in most previous productions enhances the intoxicating backstage seduction scene.

*

* "Evita," Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Ends May 30. $42-$67. (213) 365-3500. http://www.ticketmaster.com. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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