EVITA; Capitol Theater; Aug. 12-13; Three performances.

Right or wrong, I assume that a good many people who saw "Evita" over the weekend saw the traveling production of "Cats" last year. So perhaps a couple of comparisons are in order.

Salt Lake fell in love with "Cats." The costumes, the spectacle, the high-tech sets and scenery were just what the doctor ordered for a culture primed on pageants. "Evita" received a warm, appreciative reception.

Perhaps because the focus in "Evita" is almost completely on the music.

Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote the score for the show, of course, and Tim Rice wrote the book. His jivy, streetwise lyrics spiced shows like "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and the words come fast and furious here; at times too fast and furious. Many of the lines that stand out, however, are laced with British wit on wry:

The people want to adore me,

So Christian Dior me

From head to toe. . .

Sets are slight, as in "The Fantastiks," to facilitate a good three dozen scene changes, and the music is right on the cutting edge musical theater. Webber hangs his melodies on the far edge of melody. Just when you think you're hearing a jumble of notes, the song gels in your head.

Webber is also one of the few songwriters who can break your heart with a half dozen notes ("Memory" from Cats, for one, and "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" here).

As for this particular production, I saw all the sass and class local theatergoers were hoping for.

Center stage is shared by Madeleine Homan as Eva and Thomas Reiter as Che Guevara, the voice of reason and something of a roving narrator _ akin to Judas in "Superstar."

Their voices ebb and flow, clash and blend throughout. Homan can be lyric as a lark, or can put a full dose of gut and gutter in her voice when she needs it. And Reiter's lilting tenor is both warm and passionate. One can half imagine him thrilling Dublin crowds with lovely Irish tenor renditions.

Steven Snow's classical voice pumps up the persona of Juan Peron, and Amy Lynn hangs a version of "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" on the wall that belongs on a soundtrack.

Mention should be made of Latin lover David Joseph Martinez and the tight ensemble work from the dancers.

I'm not sure where Salt Lake City ranks in importance on the itinerary of this troupe's current tour. I do know the mark of a professional is the ability to deliver passion and precision whether the hall is The Met or the Tooele High Auditorium.

Here, that seemed to be the case. Each number seemed to build on the one preceding it, and the audience and cast did seem to be feeding off each other.

On the down side, slides of Eva Peron, Juan Peron and Argentina at mid-century were flashed on a screen from time to time to add texture. The multimedia effect seemed a little slick and derivative for a musical as fresh as this. But then period costumes were on the money and though many of the Argentine military men seemed a bit too charming and effete for their own good, they didn't detract.

Still, I doubt anyone walked away complaining. Salt Lake City, stamped as a cow-town for years, seems to be budding a bit.

Productions such as this can only help the place grow.