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Evita: Don't cry for this triumphant production 

Untangling the complexities of Eva Peron — her glamour, her calculating opportunism, her cold-blooded use of power, her saintly appeal to the Argentine masses — presents knotty challenges for biographers and historians. Packaging those complexities in an evening-long dialectic provided Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice with the opportunity, in their Evita, to concoct a seductive stew of sexual and political conquest.

I've never felt that Lloyd Webber spiced his score with enough melodic variety, and my eyes still glaze over each time I'm assaulted with the nines, sixes and sevens that infect Rice's lyrics for "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina." But I happily recommend that you peep in on Queen City Theatre Company's revival of the 1976 musical, because director Glenn T. Griffin, abetted by choreographer Alyson Lowe, untangle the gumbo surprisingly well.

From the moment we flash back to Evita's small-town cabaret beginnings, there's a decadent overlay in Lowe's stylized choreography that oozes Fosse and Chicago. We also get a torrid performance from Whitney Drury in her Charlotte debut as Evita, smoldering as the sexual predator, gut-wrenching as the sufferer who flames out at the tender age of 34.

The middle of Drury's performance is nearly as extraordinary as the harrowing end, for there she gives us an inkling that the love of the descamisados is a transformative aphrodisiac, one that drives the good works of her final years. Of course, the scruffy revolutionary, Che Guevara, would have us believe that Evita's beneficence to the poor was prodded by the scorn she continued to draw from the rich.

Ah, but Che's revolutionary cachet, which far eclipsed Eva's back in 1976, has lost much of its glitter, and while Patrick Ratchford lavished plenty of malignity on our narrator when Theatre Charlotte revived the musical in 2003, Kristian Wedolowski's portrayal is even more saturnine. If you enjoyed Wedolowski's decadence in Side Show a couple of years ago, you'll find him even more effective -- and understandable -- now. Not only does the South American accent work better for Che, the heaviness of that accent has dispersed enough so that Wedolowski's abrasive singing sometimes sounds like an American rock star's.

Steven Martin rounds out the principals as Juan Peron, slightly dashing in his military uniform but nearly as dull as he is sturdy. The chemistry between him and Drury is particularly effective as Evita and Juan's first meeting is sealed with their "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You" duet midway through Act 1.

The rest of the 16-member ensemble proves strong from the opening "Requiem," growing stronger in the "Santa Evita." While Wedolowski's scaffolded set design doesn't adapt vividly to all the vignettes in Evita's meteoric rise, leaving us to wonder sometimes where we are and who the minor players are, it does adapt quite effectively to the story's shifting moods, thanks largely to Emily Eudy's lighting design.

A solid Queen City effort, all in all, and a decisive Drury triumph.

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