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Hopewell presents ‘Evita’

This year is the 100th anniversary of Eva Peron’s birth and the 40th anniversary of the Broadway debut of “Evita,” the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical about the Argentine icon.

Those anniversaries had less to do with Hopewell Theatre including the musical as part of its 2019-20 than a chance encounter director Marlene Strollo had.

About a year ago, Strollo ran into Maureen Gorman Stenglein, who had played Peron when Strollo directed “Evita” 19 years ago with Move Over Broadway Productions, the community theater she founded in Canfield.

“I asked if she was still doing theater and she said, no, she was busy raising her children,” Strollo said. “She said, ‘The only thing that would pull me out of retirement would be doing “Evita” again.’ Son of a gun, that works for me.”

Strollo called the musical one of her favorites. It tells the story of Peron’s rise from poverty to become the wife of President Juan Peron and the First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952 at age 33. The musical ran for nearly four years on Broadway and won seven Tony Awards in 1980, including best musical. It also spawned a 1996 film version starring Madonna.

“Evita” can be a big show with a large ensemble belting out rousing numbers like first-act closer “A New Argentina.” However, Hopewell is not a big theater, and Strollo has adapted the production to fit the more intimate space. She is using a smaller ensemble / chorus, which plays everything from members of the military to aristocrats.

“There are some quick changes backstage,” Strollo said. “We also have no wing space, no act curtain, not a lot of backstage. There’s only so much we can do in the space that we have. We like to say we rise to the challenge.”

In addition to Stenglein, the cast includes Tom Gent, Keri Jennings, Garry Clark, Matthew DiBattiste, Rebecca Clark, John Dalbec, Niki Latsko, Jill McBride, Jennifer Milligan, Dan Reay, Regina Reynolds, JoAnne Santagata, Bob Smart and Shannon Stenglein.

Ed Phillips is the musical director and Lori George is the choreographer.

While the space provides some challenges, Strollo said there are positives as well.

“My favorite thing is we don’t have to put microphones on people,” she said. “You’re hearing genuine voices coming out of those people. Some of the scenes are so emotional, and the audience is right there to be emotional with the cast. I just think it’s richer.”

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