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Stage Review: 'Evita' overpowers Apple Hill's stage

Saturday, July 12, 2003

By John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

You know the old theater adage: There are no small roles, only small actors.

Where: Apple Hill Playhouse, Delmont
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. July 16 and 22; through July 26.
Tickets: $8-$12, dinner packages with Lamplighter Restaurant $17-$25, 724-468-5050.

The same applies to theaters. Perhaps a show as vast and panoramic as "Evita" could effectively be done on a straw-hat stage in a refurbished barn. Or maybe a minimal interpretation would work, with a smaller cast, a smaller set and a smaller perspective on the controversial life of Argentine first lady Eva Perone.

Director Brad Dell deserves a pat on the back for shoehorning the show into Apple Hill Playhouse and making parts of the production work. But with five principals and an ensemble of 21, this "Evita" is too big for its venue, just as Eva Perone was, perhaps, too big for Argentina.

Leah Hillgrove runs hot and cold in the title role, but it's not completely her fault. The Rice and Webber songs carry her to the edges of her vocal range, and by performing unmiked under a couple of hanging microphones, Hillgrove's voice is occasionally overpowered by the six-piece band. She nails the soundtrack's single, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," and seems to communicate better when she's interacting with the audience instead of the other players.

The dramatic device at the center of "Evita" is the presence of revolutionary Che Guevara, who presides and wanders in and out of the story. Like Hillgrove, Garrett Andrae as Che also performs best while not in contact with the rest of the cast.

Leyna McCarthy is strong in a supporting role, Danny A. Kotcher is weak, and John M. Noble makes a convincing fascist as Juan Perone. Elyssa Book radiates energy and professionalism from the ensemble -- watch for her in meatier roles.

John Hayes can be reached at jhayes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1991.

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