Revolution in the Air with ‘Evita’ at Bay Street

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Arianna Rosario and the ensemble in 'Evita' at Bay Street Theater. Lenny Stucker photos

Infusing new life into a comfortable classic can be risky business. But for those who aim high and succeed in pulling off something unexpected and fresh from the established standard of tried and true, the rewards can be worth every effort.

In the theater, the odds are even greater when tackling an award-winning megahit such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s “Evita.” Based on the rags-to-riches story of the life, death and lasting legacy of Argentina’s First Lady Eva Peron, the Tony-, Olivier- and Drama Desk Best/Outstanding Musical winner is perhaps one of the stage’s most familiar tropes. Which makes it all the more daunting if one’s hope is exceeding audience expectations.

Standing ovations all around for Bay Street Theater, Will Pomerantz, Marcos Santana, and the entire talented and hardworking cast and crew of “Evita.” They have managed to pull off not just an incredible production but also one that, dare we say it, is better than Broadway.

Catapulting over a practically sky-high bar, this production of “Evita,” at Bay Street stage in Sag Harbor, is more than an extremely enjoyable experience. It’s at the very top of a short list of happy theatrical surprises. Thanks to the incredible efforts in acting, dancing, singing, directing, staging, lighting, sound, and costuming, this lightning-in-a-bottle production sparkles and shines brighter than the most expensive and elaborate Cartier jewel once favored by the late Ms. Peron.

There were so many praiseworthy moments, but winning the evening at Saturday ‘s opening night show was a standout performance by Trent Saunders as Che Guevara. Clearly throwing his all into one of the most physically demanding roles I’ve seen in recent memory, this actor is most definitely one to watch. Charming, charismatic, emotive and engaging, the triple-threat thespian had us mesmerized throughout it all.

Trent Saunders leaps during a scene in ‘Evita’ at Bay Street Theater.

In the title role, Arianna Rosario embodies her persona perfectly, which is no mean feat considering the transformation that she must undergo in the span of two hours. From ambitious young girl to power- and fame hungry actress — who some would say is ruthless in her pursuits — on to benevolent benefactress, then a physically diminished woman of the people, and eventually to the last incarnation of Santa Evita, she nails the spirit of Evita. It’s a given that an actress taking on this part must possess a beautiful voice, but Ms. Rosario’s greatest gift here is in infusing an ungenerously written character with great warmth and grace.

The same can be said of Omar Lopez-Cepero’s approach to Juan Peron. One imagines it would be tough to play such a person considered to be a fascist strongman by some and working-class savior by others. Yet Mr. Lopez-Cepero manages to imbue this potentially confusing role with heart, especially through his clear devotion to his beloved. Even when he’s not the focus of the action, while watching from above, he manages to show Peron’s emotional complexity.

There isn’t enough praise to heap on the supporting cast — including Kyle Barish as Magaldi, Gabi Campo as Mistress, our East End’s own Dakota Quackenbush as Child, and the ensemble of Julian Alvarez, Edgar Cavazos, Lauren Csete, Elisa Galindez, Juan Guillen, Jose Ozuna, Carolina Santos Read and Danelle Rivera — who seriously blew us away with their multilayered array of talents. The gifts these people bring through dance, song and simple-yet-effective prop and costume changes are beyond considerable, and most definitely heads and shoulders above standard troupe expectations.

Hearty applause is also in order for a truly genius set by Anna Louizos; music direction by Camille Johnson; and pitch perfect costumes, lighting, sound, props and production by Lindsay Davis, Mike Billings, Jon Weston, Andrew Diaz and Robert Bennett. Did we mention the best choreography we’ve seen in at least a decade? Highest acclamations and approbations to Mr. Santana, and to Mr. Pomerantz, for this spirited and spectacularly stunning achievement on stage. Don’t miss it!

“Evita” will run on the Bay Street Theater stage in Sag Harbor with an extended run through September 2.. For information and reservations, please visit www.baystreet.orgor call the box office at (631) 725-9500.

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