Evita rules at KSO THE CINCINNATI POST
By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Singing Eva Peron in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Evita" is like being "shot out of a cannon," says Natalie Toro.
"It's the most difficult role for a woman in musical theater. She's probably not onstage a whole eight minutes of the show (which runs about an hour and 40 minutes). And when she's offstage, she's changing clothes."
There will be fewer costume changes in the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra's "Evita," the rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice about the wife of Argentine dictator Juan Peron, to be performed in a concert version at 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday in Greaves Concert Hall at Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights.
Instead of her usual 14 costumes (Toro sang Evita in the 20th anniversary tour of the show in 1999) there will only be "six or seven," she said.
The KSO's "Evita" will be different in other ways, too. Instead of a staged performance, with the orchestra in the pit and the singers onstage, it will be semi-staged, with Toro, tenor John Herrera (Che Guevara), baritone Thom Mariner (Juan Peron) and the other members of the cast and chorus on the Greaves stage with music director James R. Cassidy and the KSO.
That - plus working with a full orchestra instead of a tiny pit orchestra or synthesized accompaniment - is what Toro finds most exciting about performing with the KSO.
"I've never performed onstage, acting and moving and doing things with an orchestra onstage. I've sung with an orchestra before, but that's always a concert. You stand, you sing, you have a beautiful gown. This is really fun for me because I'm exiting and entering through the orchestra.
"Actually, I use them. I treat them as my 'descamisados' (the "shirtless," union workers who revered Eva Peron). I get to play with the conductor, too. It's so rare that you get to do that. I think the audience will really enjoy it."
A native of the Bronx, Toro got her start singing "Which Way You Going Billy" at one of the legendary amateur nights at Harlem's Apollo Theater.
"I was 5 years old, a big ham. I remember pretty much everything, even the sound of my Mary Janes clicking on the hardwood floor. My father had hired a five-piece band, and the lead singer had this huge Afro. I was fighting with him because, even though we had rehearsed it with the microphone on the stand, I wanted to hold it. I decided to pull that on him while I was onstage.
"Of course, the audience was like, 'Let her hold the mike,' because I was saying it in the mike, so he gave it to me, and I just tore up the stage."
At 8, Toro began studying piano and music theory at the Manhattan School of Music. She attended the New Rochelle Academy, where she studied with music and drama teacher Marie Captain, the High School of Music and Art in New York and the Boston Conservatory.
After that came the world premiere of "Sheboppin" (as Lucinda Teresa Delfuego), Rosalia in the Japanese tour of "West Side Story" and, her dream, Epinone in "Les Miserables" on Broadway. She has also sung Grizabella in "Cats," Carmen in "Fame," Sally in "A Christmas Carol" and Serena the duckling/swan in "Everything's Ducky."
That's where she first worked with Herrera, she said. "He was the wolf who wanted to eat the duck." She and Herrera performed in the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's production of "Everything's Ducky."
Toro was last in Cincinnati as Mary Magdalene in "Jesus Christ Superstar" in 2003. She comes to Cincinnati from a tour of "Superstar" and two months in "The Audience," an off-Broadway production that won a Drama Desk nomination.
Toro, at 5-feet-2, is the first Latina to sing Evita, she said.
"That's what the whole anniversary tour was about. Finally, all the leads were Latin."
"It's just the way of the world," Toro continued. "Just because she (Eva Peron) had blonde hair. The difference is that I'm Latin, so I have that passion and that fire that she must have had."
Toro sees Evita as "a hero and at the same time a villain. I think she meant to do well, but her wealth and celebrity went to her head.
"Think of all the starving actors who all of sudden are the next Hollywood star. And here you are in the 1940s in Argentina, no less. We're not even talking America.
"With dictators, she had to go to the top. She used her sexuality. She used her beauty, but he (Juan Peron) used her like she used him.
"At the same time, she did help a lot of people. Even until this day, if you go to Argentina and talk about Evita to some people, the Argentinos, let me tell you, they will protect her like she was the next coming of the Messiah. Then you have the other side (represented by Che Guevara in the show). You have this battle within the country."
The show does not go over well in Argentina, because it depicts her as a tyrant, Toro said.
The KSO's "Evita" utilizes platforms, props and projections of pictures from Eva Peron's life.
"Evita" began in 1976 as a double album on MCA Records. The album became so popular that it became a show in 1978 at the Prince Edward Theater in London.
The U.S. premiere took place in 1979 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles with Patti LuPone as Eva and Mandy Patinkin as Che. Herrera later took over the role from Patinkin.
Singing with a full orchestra is a treat, Toro said.
"When you have five or six pieces in the pit playing every instrument possible, especially the keyboards, it sounds fake a lot of the time. It doesn't sound as full and rich. Now I'm getting a full sound."
Publication date: 05-13-2005
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