Theater Review - 'Evita' brings the heat to Serenbe Playhouse

Brian Clowdus and star Randi Garza bring Eva Peron's story to life

Seeing a show outdoors at Serenbe Playhouse has quickly become an essential part of summer for many Atlantans since Brian Clowdus founded the theater company in 2009. Serving as the company's executive director, Clowdus is ready to unleash a dark and sexy production of Evita starring local actress Randi Garza in the title role.

Evita, of course, is the classic Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical that tells the story of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, with epic songs like "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." In terms of this production in relation to the traditional Patti LuPone version or Madonna's film take, Clowdus sees it as a standalone. "It's really got a life of its own," he says. "I take a lot of pride in not wanting to replicate what's already been done, and although I did see the revival last year, I made a conscious effort not to watch the movie. I don't want any of that in my mind because I want it to be a real creation of my brain and a collaboration with the cast."

Clowdus notes that the outdoor setting completely in the round will give the production a truly immersive feeling, and the entire musical will take place during Evita's funeral. Typically, the funeral scene is introduced at the beginning and the end of the musical, but here, the ensemble cast will remain the entire time, popping in an out to help Eva Perón tell her story. Eva gives the audience the beautiful version of her life's events, and the character of Ché Guevara adds commentary and perspective to clue the audience in to some of the elements the former glosses over.

Expect some impressive footwork on stage as well, as the cast has been training in the art of the tango. "The tango can feel so sorrowful and so sexy at the same time," Clowdus says. "Just like Eva's life, she was so gorgeous, but she died so young, she had just gotten started." The dancing is one way in which the overall atmosphere of a beautiful and tragic story is conveyed, and it helps to establish the dark and sensual mood.

One of the main draws of this production is the chance to see Garza in the leading role. Garza was a standout in Serenbe's Man of La Mancha earlier this year.

"I'm completely obsessed with Randi Garza, she's just a star, she has that star quality; you can't train it," Clowdus says. "She has humor, she has a little bit of a bad girl funky edge to her, which makes her even more of a leading lady. The layers she is bringing to Evita, Atlanta is not going to know what happened to them!"

Still, Clowdus says that even though Evita is a star-driven musical, much like with the production of Man of La Mancha, the ensemble will be a major presence in this experience. He believes this helps to draw the crowd in as well, as there is less of a boundary between the actors and the audience. Clowdus believes that this inclusive theatrical experience helps Serenbe draw a younger crowd than other companies.

Just don't mention the "R" word! "We never say the word 'rain,'" Clowdus laughs. "We always have a backup plan, like if it did rain, we could move Evita indoors to the covered pavilion and do a concert version, but I just don't worry about it anymore. We're gonna do the show come hell or high water, and if it rains we'll deal with it in the moment."

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