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Lancaster theater group cuts 'Evita' performance short, citing complaint from rights holder

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Prima, a nonprofit theater group based in downtown Lancaster, is cutting short its production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Evita" after it says it received a complaint from the people who hold the rights to the musical.

The theater group was scheduled to hold the third of five planned performances Thursday before Prima announced the cancellation Wednesday afternoon. 

"The process to stage a show like EVITA starts over a year out, when we purchased the rights to present the show," Prima co-founder Mitch Nugent said in a news release. "In the case of EVITA, our creative decisions in presenting the material created significant concerns with the rights holders of the show."

In a phone interview Thursday, Nugent declined to elaborate on the specifics of those creative decisions but said Prima often tries to freshen up aging stories.

Theater groups have to follow certain guidelines when it comes to how they produce a work to make sure they stay true to the rights holder's vision, but those guidelines usually contain room for creative liberties.

"We're trying to do material that speaks to the next generation in what is known as a dying art field," Nugent said. 

That approach "backfired" with "Evita," Nugent said, adding he takes full responsibility for what happened.

Prima's leadership realized early this week that it needed to either makes major changes to the performance or cancel the remaining shows. Nugent opted to cancel out of concern that the small theater group could not make the needed changes in such a short amount of time without compromising the quality of the show.

"Our team is grieving, as you can imagine," he said. "It's a big hit, and these folks, the cast and the production team, put months of work into this."

Ticket holders for the canceled performances can request a refund or a credit toward a future show, or they can donate the cost of the ticket toward the theater's youth initiative.

Prima's "Evita" cast is also offering a free cabaret Saturday evening. More information is available on the theater's website.

"Evita" tells the story of Eva Perón, wife of Argentine president Juan Perón during his first term in office from 1946 to 1952. The show was scheduled to take place Sept. 7, 8, 14, 15 and 16 at the Willow Valley Communities Cultural Center in West Lampeter Township, Lancaster County.

With tickets priced between $24 and $50 a piece, Prima expects to take a financial hit from the cancellations. Nugent declined to offer an exact estimate of the losses but said the community has been generally supportive since yesterday's cancellation announcement.

Nugent and his wife, Diana, founded Prima in 2010. The nonprofit has an annual budget around $300,000 and has performed concerts, cabarets and theatrical productions like "Big Fish" and "Elton John's Aida."

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Jennifer Wentz

Jennifer Wentz

Jennifer Wentz covers Lancaster County, York County, financial services, taxation and legal services. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at jwentz@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @jenni_wentz.

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