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"Don't cry for me, Argentina!" Evita warbles, shuffling down the stage with her walker. "My hip transplant operation went well." All right, all right: Perhaps Evita isn't quite that old yet, but the Andrew Lloyd Webber warhorse isn't exactly a spring chicken of the theatrical world, either. Fortunately this bus-and-truck touring production of the venerable tunester is sprightly and entertaining, the only signs of age coming from the score itself, which occasionally creaks to the melodies of the schmaltzy '70s, when the work was created. This production also has the bonus of having the original production's director, Harold Prince, along for the ride as a "production supervisor." He seemingly cracks the whip over bona fide director Larry Fuller, who, in turn, is credited with "reproducing" Prince's direction and choreography for the show.

Evita is of course the musical biography of the charismatic former first lady of Argentina, who clawed her way out of poverty to become an international symbol of beauty and power before succumbing to the inevitable depredations of corruption and illness.On the evening reviewed, Evita was played by understudy Kate Manning, standing in for Kathy Voytko. We see her first as a big-haired small-town ingénue who hooks up with a traveling musician (Gabriel Burrafato), following him to the bright lights of Buenos Aires. As soon as she hits the big city, though, Evita ditches the musician and catches the eye of the future president of Argentina, Juan Peron (Philip Hernandez). Before long, she has become Peron's own personal Lady Macbeth of Argentina.

Manning, whose surprisingly massive voice belies her near-elfin frame, cut a vivid and dynamic Evita, though she too often seemed to be overtly channeling original star Patti LuPone, particularly in numbers such as "The Actress Hasn't Learned (the Lines You'd Like To Hear)," when her eyes are flashing with greedy ambition. Still, Manning undeniably possesses the chops—and the gams—for the part: Her "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" certainly chills the spine, just as it should. And her duet with the show's narrator, Che Guevara (Bradley Dean), in "High Flying, Adored" is dirty-dancingly, drolly ironic.

Hernandez's oh-so-sinister Peron is a nice combination of bland and oily, while Dean's ever-smirking Che offers a turn that is rich with suppressed anger and sardonic contempt. Musical production values, credited to music supervisor Kevin Farrell, are first-rate. The show crackles with energy and excitement, and it is an excellent way of being introduced to this well-known, near-classic musical.

"Evita," presented by Broadway/L.A. at the Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Tue.-Thu. 7:30 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 1 & 6:30 p.m. Mar. 2-13. $42.50-67.50. (213) 365-3500 or (714) 740-7878.

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