Manatee Players' revival of 'Evita' is must-see theater in Bradenton: review

Manatee Players do a superb job of staging the Broadway smash

wtatangelo@bradenton.comSeptember 22, 2012 

Dianne Dawson won for Best Actress last year at the national AACTFest11 in Rochester, N.Y. for her role in the Manatee Players 2010 production of "Sunday in the Park with George."

She's equally brilliant in "Evita."

Dawson brings Eva Peron (1919-1952), the onetime first lady of Argentina, to life in all her divisive glory in the somber pop operetta by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

The show follows Eva's rise from small-town girl to big-city actress to the most powerful woman in Argentina.

Dawson sings beautifully, moves gracefully, and, most importantly, inhabits the role with smart objectivity. While other actresses wrongheadedly worshipped Peron (yes, here's looking at you, Madonna), Dawson does a superb job of depicting the historical figure as both beloved political leader and opportunistic wife of a dictator driven as much by personal ambition as love for country.

Another Dawson, Dianne's husband Steve, plays the narrator Che as if channeling Argentine Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.

When the Dawsons share the stage, it's first-rate theater by any metric.

Directed and choreographed by Manatee Players Artistic Director Rick Kerby, the production moves fluidly with the large cast used smartly to depict much larger crowds of Argentinians. All three leads, which include Bradley Barbaro as Peron, deliver nuanced, tasteful performances. There's not a superfluous move or gesture in the show.

Marc Lalosh's winning set features a revolving platform with twin, ascending staircases. The back wall serves as a screen for images of the real Peron in action. The projections work wonderfully thanks to the striking similarity between Eva Peron and Dianne Dawson, dressed in spot-on costumes by Jean Boothby.

The lighting by Joseph Oshry enhances the visuals throughout the show while Aaron Cassette deftly leads a seven-piece through a score that alternates between operatic and Broadway pop.

There are many reasons to see the Manatee Players' production of "Evita." Need just one? I'll go with Dianne Dawson's chilling rendition of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." It will make you instantly forget every other version of the song you've heard before. And maybe even dry your eye.

Details: Sept. 20-Oct. 7; 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; 2 p.m. Sept. 29. Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre, 102 Old Main St., Bradenton. Tickets: $26 (adults), $15 (teachers) and $13 (students). Information: 941-748-5875 or www.manateeplayers.com.

Wade Tatangelo, features writer and columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow him on Twitter@wtatangelo.

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