The Wick Theatre uses director Norb Joerder so frequently because he has staged most of its musicals already, often many times over. He could, as the expression goes, direct them in his sleep. And with the current production of Evita, that is exactly what it looks like he has done.
The Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice biographical musical about Argentina’s power-hungry Eva Peron was first a studio album, for which the late, great Harold Prince then devised masterful, iconic staging. Those concepts and images are what are on display at the Wick, without a single new inspiration or moment of spontaneity.
Granted, rehearsing the 30-plus cast members into replicating Prince’s intricate staging is no small feat, but the Wick’s audience deserves more than an acute case of déjà vu.
And then there is Colombian-born Daniella Mass, an America’s Got Talent semi-finalist, in the title role. She does sing the demanding role well enough, but her sloppy diction – in a language that is surely not her first – is an argument for the Wick using surtitle projections.
One of the challenges of the role is being able to sing and dance simultaneously in a triple-time number such as “Buenos Aires,” Evita’s move up to the big city. At some point Joerder and his choreographer Stephen Casey must have realized that Mass is dance-challenged, so she wanders around the stage while the ensemble handles the dance chores.
It is all such a missed opportunity, because Evita is arguably Lloyd Webber’s best, most adult, politically astute musical, which is grounded in human drama rather than chandeliers, grand staircases or train cars. And as director Michael Grandage showed with his 2012 Broadway revival, there are plenty of different, valid ways that this sung-through score can be staged.
Thank goodness for Michael Focas as Che, the show’s narrator/Cuban chorus/social conscience. He insinuates himself into most scenes, commenting on Eva’s conniving rise. And because Mass makes such mush of her lyrics, Focas manages to steal the evening’s focus. Sean McDermott is a solid presence as Juan Peron, though the role has always seemed underwritten. While their stage time is brief, Samantha O’Donnell and Frank Francisco lend capable support as Peron’s former mistress and tango singer Magaldi.
Kimberly Wick’s scenic design features an elevated platform on which Eva can implore Argentina not to cry for her and a spare stage space that allows the ensemble plenty of room to kick up its heels. Josieu Jean’s newsreel-like projections offer the score historical context, similar to the approach in Alan Parker’s 1996 film version. While the cast size makes this a high-payroll show, it remains unfortunate that the Wick resorts to recorded musical tracks as a cost-cutter.
Produced and performed well, Evita can be exciting, involving theater, but you would never know that from what is onstage at the Wick.
EVITA, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Sunday, Feb. 23. $95. 561-995-2333 or visit thewick.org.