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Dylan Bivings

By Rita J. Egan

Stand back, theatergoers, “Evita” is in town. On Saturday, May 11, the award-winning musical opened at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.

“Evita” revolves around the controversial life of María Eva Duarte de Perón, who went from poverty to a success as an Argentine film and radio star. Her marriage to Juan Perón, a military leader who became the country’s president in 1946, thrust her further in the spotlight until her death at 33 in 1952.

When the audience first meets Evita, she is an ambitious teenager in 1934 who wants to leave the small city of Junin to travel to Buenos Aires with Agustin Magaldi, a tango singer. Soon after her arrival in the big city, she leaves Magaldi and sleeps her way to the top before meeting Col. Perón at a charity concert. While not accepted by the upper class after her marriage to Perón, Evita sees herself as the champion of the “descamisados,” the working class.

The musical, which features lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, first premiered on Broadway in 1979 with Patti LuPone as Evita and Mandy Patinkin as Che. It went on to win seven Tony Awards, including best musical in 1980. The production inspired the 1996 movie starring Madonna (Evita), Antonio Banderas (Che) and Jonathan Pryce (Perón) and was revived on Broadway in 2012 with Argentine actress Elena Roger and singer Ricky Martin as Che.

In the Smithtown production, Laura Laureano plays Evita, and the young actress possesses the poise and maturity needed to handle the role of the strong woman. Her vocals are powerful on all of the musical’s memorable favorites including “Buenos Aires,” “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “Rainbow High.” Her performance of “Lament” at the end of Act II is an emotional one that will have audience members reaching for their tissues.

Dylan Bivings plays a suave Che. The character serves as the musical’s narrator, and Bivings proves to be a strong lead on various numbers. He shines during “And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)” and his duet with Laureano, “High Flying Adored.” Dennis Creighton was perfect as Perón, delivering the role with the right amount of tenderness that helps audience members understand just how much this man loved Eva. Creighton’s tenor singing voice is ideal for his solos.

Anthony Arpino as Magaldi also shined vocally during “On This Night of a Thousand Stars.” During the number “Santa Evita” on opening night, Zoe Avery played the child who approaches Evita, and Avery’s singing was delightful as she hit every note sweetly and perfectly. The actress alternates the role with Dori Ahlgrim.

Lauren Tirado, as the mistress, delivered a standout performance of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.” The scene is a heartbreaking moment in the life of a character that the audience only meets once, and it’s essential that a vocalist digs deep when performing this song, so it can be understood that Evita will stop at nothing and will even throw another woman out on the streets. Tirado’s superb vocals proved she has the talent to deliver such an emotional number.

All of the ensemble members also deserve a round of applause for their outstanding vocals and impressive dancing. Ronald Green III has masterfully directed a cast that proves a musical lover doesn’t need to head into the city to take in a Broadway-quality show. Green has also outdone himself with the period costumes, especially with Laureano’s gown during the balcony scene when she sings “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”

Adding to the Broadway-like magic were the talented musicians led by conductor Melissa Coyle and scenic and video designer Tim Golebiewski. The set designed by Golebiewski and constructed by TJ Construction, Russ Bakunus and Clark Services is simple yet elegant and incorporates five small screens that display pictures of Eva and Perón through the years that complement the musical perfectly without being distracting.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “Evita” through June 23. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets range from $25 to $38. For more information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

All photos by Courtney Braun/ Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts

By Kyle Barr

It is a real testament to the late, great Freddie Mercury and the band Queen that their songs sit so squarely in the public zeitgeist. “We Are the Champions” is still the go-to sports song for anybody’s home team, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” is that one song that, when played 50 times on a road trip, still never gets old.

It also means that the show “We Will Rock You,” which held its Northeastern regional premiere opening at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts on July 7, really needed to encapsulate just what Mercury and Queen meant to culture just before the turn of the century. Thankfully, the talented 18-member cast at SPAC managed to pull it off with ease.

With book by Ben Elton, the story takes place 300 years in the future in a vague dystopian world where all music but that which is produced by the corporation is banned. All those living on the iPlanet, as it is called, exist under the thumb of the Globalsoft Corporation, headed by the stiff-necked Khashoggi (Dylan Bivings) and the raucous Killer Queen (the-great-as-always Brianne Boyd). Two young rebels, Galileo (Andrew Murano) and Scaramouche (Danielle Nigro) are captured by Globalsoft right out of high school for being too out of the mainstream. This leads them on a quest to find the rebels called The Bohemians and then to find the true meaning of rock and roll and set the world free.

Featuring more than 20 hit Queen songs, the show is accompanied by a live band, with Melissa and Craig Coyle on keyboard, Chad Goodstein and Mike Lawshé on guitar, Rob Curry on bass and Jim Waddell on drums. At first it’s hard to tell from where the band is playing. They are not on stage, nor on the balcony. It is well worth staying until the end to see exactly where these band members were cleverly hid.

Tim Golebiewski, who directed last year’s very fine production of “Young Frankenstein,” returns this year to showcase his talents for stimulating musical sequences and cutting humor. This time the stage is set with what appears to be a very simple layout, just a two-level affair with a white screen hanging above it all. Yet this display holds more than a few surprises. 

Golebiewski and Chris Creevy, the head of lighting design, must have had a lot of fun setting up the LED lights all around the stage, whose multiple colors coordinate with a projector screen behind the stage. Every musical performance has a corresponding color and video that plays in time to the music. It’s a surprising sensation seeing the performance and video, like attending both a musical and rock concert all at once.

Danielle Nigro and Andrew Murano in a scene from the show

In a production such as this, where the story is not much more than a vehicle to get to the next Queen song, the vocal quality is probably the biggest selling point and the cast is very much up to the task. 

Nigro does a great job with the punk-styled, quick-mouthed Scaramouche, and she is great both in lead vocals in songs like “Somebody to Love” and in chorus in songs like “Under Pressure.” Mark Maurice, as Brit, and Courtney Braun, as Oz, are both absolutely hilarious, especially with Maurice’s random bouts of martial arts. Their duet on “I Want It All” is fun and energetic. Terrific in last year’s SPAC performance of “Man of La Mancha,” Boyd  pulls out all the stops with her usual considerable stage presence. She’s a perfect fit for the part of Killer Queen, especially with such loud and sometimes racy renditions of “Play the Game” and “Fat Bottomed Girls.”

If you have even a passing interest in Queen, Freddie Mercury or rock in general, then this is a great night outing to rekindle that old rebel rocker spirit.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “We Will Rock You” through Aug. 19. Parental discretion is advised. Tickets range from $25 to $38. For more information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

Photos courtesy of SPAC

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