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Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
What’s most interesting about Open Circle Theatre, I’m discovering, isn’t the mere fact that its mission involves opening stages to artists with disabilities. It isn’t even the more interesting fact that the process of integrating those artists sometimes creates startling moments of clarity in shows that have defeated bigger, richer troupes (yes, Caucasian Chalk Circle, I’m talking to you). It’s that in chasing those moments, in creating little collisions of expectation and possibility, the troupe finds expressive, often exciting modes of communication that are less about limits overcome than about boundaries shattered—taking vocabularies or styles or images that wouldn’t exist but for those limits and those boundaries, fusing them with theatrical techniques both traditional and experimental, creating something that, at its best, is vital and energizing and new. And so the musical shortcomings of the Evita that Joe Banno has staged for the company don’t bother me as much as they might—though there’s no denying that Stuart Weich’s six-piece ensemble hardly seems up to Lloyd Webber’s pop-opera purpleness, or that Amanda Johnson isn’t the steely-voiced ball-breaker the part of Eva Perón requires, or that the acoustics in the black-box space at Round House Theatre Silver Spring are hardly musical-friendly. Rob McQuay’s full-voiced, caustically cynical Che is the real deal, though, and Steven McWilliams gets both laughs and lyricism out of the nightclub singer Magaldi, one of a host of men the title character uses and throws away on her way to the top. But the real fun’s in watching what Banno (a frequent Washington City Paper contributor) and his collaborators (including lead choreographer Cassie Meador and her Liz Lerman Dance Exchange colleagues) do with the show—refocusing it so the Argentine rabble is as critical a character as the dictator or his social-climber consort, inventing clever ways to insert McQuay’s constantly commenting Che seamlessly into the action (the actor may use a wheelchair, but the character doesn’t until the plot makes it seem not just apt but downright ironic), and introducing signing actors whose function is less to translate for nonhearing patrons than it is to contribute an artful form of storytelling directed at all the seats. Nothing combusts quite incandescently enough to make Evita more than the half-cooked bit of pseudohistorical piffle it’s always been, but when it’s cooking, it’s an agreeably tasty little tango.—Trey Graham