Company brings new 'Evita' to Charleston

Christina Leidel and Paul O'Brien as Eva and Juan Peron.

Wandering Stars' production of "Evita" for Piccolo Spoleto features a couple of firsts. It is the first time the Andrew Loyd Weber and Tim Rice musical will be performed in Charleston, and it is also the first show for the fledgling company. The backbone of Wandering Stars consists of three producers: Paul O'Brien, an oncologist at the Medical University of South Carolina who plays Juan Peron in the show; Christina Leidel, a physics teacher at The Citadel who stars as Eva Peron; and Mary Cimino, a local theater veteran who is directing the show.

"We've worked three shows together, so we got to be somewhat friendly and realized a commonality in the way we were thinking," Cimino said.

Cimino had her own company, Charleston Theatreworks, during the 1990s. She said O'Brien was the one who approached her and asked if she would ever consider starting a company again.

"Because I've had the experience of how difficult it is to form a theater company and keep it alive financially, I said, 'Why don't we just take it one show at a time?' " Cimino said.

As if starting a theater company is not difficult enough, the three chose the challenging "Evita" for their debut. Cimino said it is the hardest show she has worked on, mainly because of the music. "Evita" has no dialogue, relying solely on song to communicate its ideas. The blocking was particularly tricky, and the musicians struggled at first with the complicated rhythms in the score, she said.

"It's been lots of fun, and I've met lots of nice people and very good singers, but it's been very difficult," Cimino said.

The musical, which has had runs on Broadway and in London, Spain, Brazil and other cities, follows the rise of Argentine political leader Eva Peron from poverty to wealth and power. Based on a true story, "Evita" explores all sides of this intriguing and influential woman.

"Sometimes it's not exactly a sympathetic portrait," Cimino said. "She got a little drunk with the power, at least according to (composer) Andrew Loyd Weber and (librettist-lyricist) Tim Rice. Juan Peron was the one who became president, but she was the one who engineered it."

While Cimino hopes to continue with Wandering Stars, her experience with Charleston Theatreworks has made her a strict realist. She hopes the Piccolo run of "Evita" will be a financial success, and if it is, Wandering Stars plans to stage it at the Dock Street Theatre in the future. But beyond that, Cimino admits the company has no concrete plans.

"We don't even have a space yet," she said. "I have 10 years of experience. We just can't take on too much at a time, because that's how theater companies fail."

Jessica Cabe is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.