Monday, October 26, 2009

Evita: Saving a Town’s Victorian Jewel with Theater

I hadn’t been in Middletown’s Everett Theater since it had been remodeled last year. Several years ago, some parents at MOT Charter arranged for our Acting Club to use the theater for our home-grown musical. The students were loved to performing there, but parents knew not to sit under the balcony because of the ceiling’s instability. Three years later, a portion of the ceiling did indeed collapse in the empty theater hours after a performance. Associated Community Talents, Inc. (ACT), owners of theater since 1983, mobilized the community and town to repair and refurbish it.

ACT’s production of Evita on 10/18 was well done. A cast member had invited me to the show, and I was thrilled to discover a few of the other young people in the ensemble were former students of mine. Tracy Friswell-Jacobs’ crisp choreography was dynamic and carried out nicely by the cast members.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical has its highs and lows. Sometimes, Tim Rice’s lyrics leave the actors stranded in a sea of mediocrity: “I could find job satisfaction in Paraguay”, sings the talented Eric Bayne as Juan Peron. Other times the work is highly successful, with a musical theme signifying ambition and hunger for power weaving in and out of the drama. Evita is blatantly operatic: It opens with Eva Peron’s corpse lovingly caressed in a casket, surrounded by mourning citizens.

From there, we observe her desperate climb from actress to First Lady. Adrienne Blair, who shared the part with Friswell-Jacobs, was sympathetic and tragic in the role of Eva. Eva’s thirst for power is palpable in A New Argentina, and her suffering and sense of loss in Lament is wrenching. Producer Peter Briccotto was captivating as Che: ever present, always offering another almost point of view, which often broke the third wall.

I look forward to seeing more off ACT’s productions and am so relieved they have mobilized residents and artists to save a historical landmark in a town where so many treasures have been torn down.


  1. Jessica, you are on the mark with your comments. I wish you had seen the opening night with Tracy Friswell-Jacobs as Eva. She kept the audience mesmerized though out the entire performance. I could not believe I was in Middletown, De. Peter Briccotto and his entire staff have brought the Everett to a new dimension. Bravo.

  2. If you were lucky enough to see week two then you were treated to a powerhouse voice .Adrienne Blair a Middletown native, was out of this world.From the beginning where she wakes, to the end ,where I may add she really cries and keeps control of that beautiful voice it was truly moving,you could even hear sobbibg in the audience.You did'nt miss anything by not seeing it the first week and if you saw the first that was great as well.

  3. NOTE: there was never a problem with the balcony as you stated one time the fire marshal closed it because we did not have a firealarm system,ehich we have now, because he limited the theatre to 300 occupants.
    This was corrected before the main ceiling collapse.

    Thank you.

  4. I beg to differ with Anonymous number certainly did miss something by not seeing the first weekend. In fact, both weekends were stellar. Tracy as Eva was strong, bringing much experience and incredible stage presence to the role, not to mention capturing the look and style of Eva Peron, a tragic historical figure. (Plus, her dancer legs were gorgeous!) Adrienne, who is new to carrying a show and rose to the challenge, brought a strong voice to the Everett and really grew into the role as the show progressed. EVERYONE was great, and it showed how, when an ensemble truly works together, great things can happen. The Everett is really becoming a true "Theatre," reflecting the growing Middletown Arts community and not resting on the methods of the past.
    My mother always quoted Bambi, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

  5. Wow, it amazes me how catty people can be! Both performers were stellar, it doesn't matter how someone looked. Adrienne has been performing at the Everett since she was a very small child. She is also a seasoned performer not only on the stage but also having sung with numerous jazz bands performing professionally.
    Portraying Eva Peron is a very difficult challenge as noone is able to capture her dynamic to a tee. That's not what theatre is about. It's about bringing your own flavor and style to a role.

  6. I don't have an ID for this website, but I am Peter Briccotto

    As the producer of the project I could not be more proud of this production. It was an exhilarating experience to watch two different women go through the challenges of performing such a dynamic role. Make no bones about it, Adrienne and Tracy were both tremendous bring their respective strengths to our production. Tracy and Adrienne are both MOT area natives, but their backgrounds in the performance arts do differ. They each brought something to the table to help each other grow and mature as Eva Peron. Tracy's extensive background and training in musical theatre as a leading lady throughout the region brought numerous acting and dancing dimensions to Eva. Adrienne's incredible understanding of vocal music brought vocal layers to Eva I have rarely witnessed in this role – not to mention, this was Adrienne’s debut as a leading lady – save those programs, you might be able to say, “I saw her at the Everett..” Either way, the audiences were blown away by both women, as was I.

    As a producer/director I thrive on the challenges of double casting roles. At the end of the day, as these comments prove, double casting evokes spirited discussion about theatrical performances in our community. The audiences want to come back to see what the other performer will bring to the table. More performers have the opportunity to before on stage in major roles. At the end of the day, double casting allows our theatre to maximize the usage of our incredible variety of talent and experience, and inspire patrons to continue filling our theatre.

    I would hope that people would not use this forum for further debate regarding which woman portrayed Evita better. They were different but equally amazing. I love both of them dearly, and thank them for tremendous performances. It is unfortunate to have no choice but to believe people from within our program are continuing this debate. I would hope that people would leave their names with their comments. I respectfully wish for the comments to stay positive and represent our organization with pride. The Everett is in an exciting era of growth. My school of thought is unconventional in many aspects, but we must stay positive and respectful. Division is an unfortunate demise.

    Jessica, thank you for spreading the word about our budding theatrical program. Your comments have been very well received and noted by the cast and crew!

  7. I want to clear this up, as clearly I was misunderstood. I was in no way trying to be catty. My point was a positive one - that both ladies brought a completely different background and attitude to the role, each with their own talents and attributes. This made BOTH weekends exciting and interesting to watch. That is ALL I was saying - let's assume positive intent here, people! :-) Taking on a show of this scope is an enormous challenge, both for the performers as well as for the theatre itself. Middletown is lucky to have a theatre that is willing to step outside of the traditional community theatre fare and excel at it! Go, Everett!!

  8. HI, folks! This is Tracy Friswell-Jacobs, and I don't have a user name here, either, but felt that this should be said:

    I just want to thank you all for being "spirited" enough to continue to read the forum, it's posts, and continue to add to them. :-) Adrienne and I both had a great time working on this show, and we are thrilled to have "fans" that support our performances. We were both very supportive of each other, as well, and I, for one, hope to have the opportunity to work with the entire cast again at some point, as we really had a lot of fun!

    It hopefully doesn't reflect on the Everett or the cast that people clearly have strong opinions. However, I must point out that - in a good way! - we clearly had an impact with this production if people are still talking about it, even arguing about it! :-) This was a challenging show, to be sure, and the cast worked hard to pull it off with aplomb.

    The joy of working in Community Theatre is the meeting of a goal, the teamwork required to reach it, and the fun had along the way. If everyone approaches it with a positive outlook, it makes the success that much sweeter. Hopefully, people can continue to spread the word that the Everett is a great place to work, the team is a wonderful group of people, and the board is working hard to see the theatre succeed and grow. That is ALL that matters in this business!

    Thanks again, Jessica, for coming to the show and opening this amazing dialogue where theatre-goers can share their views. When any show strikes a chord, regardless of how it is "struck," it succeeded! ;-)

  9. Hi! This is Adrienne Blair! Thank you so much for the positive feedback and compliments! I have been a memeber of A.C.T since 1982. As the times change, productions have become more sofisticated and at times, even complex. I had an absolute blast during Evita! I met so many wonderful, talented people that will be friends of mine for a lifetime.
    Peter Briccotto is a very talented, young, and fresh faced producer! He really is trying to make the Everett a place where people feel at home. Hopefully this blog will have the end result of more folks in the community getting involved, whether it be auditioning for upcoming roles, going behind the scenes, or just coming out in support of this wonderful theatre and all it's actors/singers/directors/, and tech support.
    Jessica, thank you so much for coming to see the show and providing wonderful feedback for us!