P3 Founder

Jon Peterson holds a picture of himself and other actors performing “Evita” in 1995 at the Dinner Call Theatre in Tustin.

Any father who has experienced it is happy to tell you what a privilege it is to witness a birth.

That would explain the beaming countenance of Jon Peterson last Friday night on the stage of the 1920s-era Ernest Borgnine Theatre in the historic Scottish Rite Event Center. He was watching the birth of his dream, the P3 Theatre Company.

Peterson worked with Tim Cable, the retired police officer/musical theatre devotee/manager of the temple and the Ernest Borgnine Theatre. Cable stood on the Borgnine stage before the first overture and told the audience "bringing the community into this historic place" was his dream come true.

Peterson and Cable aren't tiptoeing into this new venture, either. They have pushed the P3 Theatre Company into the deep end, announcing a full five-play season. Even more ambitious, the season opens with "Evita," the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice extravaganza telling of the meteoric rise and sudden death of Eva Peron.

Some concessions were made to the startup nature of the opening. The "orchestra" for "Evita" is a recording, making it difficult to modulate for the varying levels of song. (I'm not certain exactly where an actual orchestra could be accommodated in the ornate theater, though.) On the whole, the cast was in fine voice, but it was hard to tell that except with soft solos or full-throated, full-company choruses.

A robust 23-person cast fills the stage, with some nifty choreography from director/choreographer Jimmy Hippenstiel making the most of the restricted space in several numbers. Even with the significant number in the ensemble, there were numerous quick-change moments to keep the action moving.

All of the cast has at least regional theater experience, but only one, Euriamis Losada (Che Guevara) has an Actors' Equity card. He dominated the action (as the character is supposed to do), and moved the play along nicely.

While she may not have an Equity card, Christy Mauro-Cohen is a seasoned singer and performer, with more than 200 turns as Eva Peron. She was in complete command throughout, from the village peasant girl to the worldwide phenomenon that was Eva Peron. She even managed to survive a near-disaster on opening night as her tower stuttered while being moved across the stage, threatening to dump her.

Rudy Martinez was believable as Juan Peron, with sufficient gravity while still seeming subservient to Eva. An ingenue to be watched is Emily Abeles, who shined as Peron's mistress even though the part seemed to be truncated in this version.

As is the case with any new entity fresh from birth, the P3 Theatre Company has some growing to do. Happily, the first effort shows a sure capacity to do just that. It's going to be fun to watch.

"Evita" runs through Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $25-$35 at www.p3theatre.biz. The Ernest Borgnine Theatre is at 855 Elm St.

Season subscriptions also are available at the website. Other plays in the season are "Steel Magnolias," Nov. 8-17; "Sordid Lives," Feb. 7-16; "Gypsy," March 27-April 12; and "A Chorus Line," June 5-12.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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