“Evita”: Intriguing, Powerful, Spare

July 12, 2010
Review by MARILYN J. ROWLAND, originally published in the Enterprise on Friday, July 9, 2010.

The College Light Opera Company’s “Evita” is presented in muted colors on a dimly lit, sparsely furnished stage, with archival photographs and film of Eva Duarte de Perón and Juan Perón playing silently, almost continuously in the background on two large screens on either side of the stage. It is an intriguing production, and the subdued, yet powerful, style emphasizes the emotional appeal of Eva Perón and the crucial role she came to play in Argentina.

“Evita” was originally written as a rock opera concept album in 1976, with lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The songs, notably “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” had become popular prior to the opening of the play in London in 1978 and in New York in 1978. (The movie, starring Madonna, came later, in 1996.)

Perhaps because of its musical album origins, or because it attempts to cover a lot of ground (Evita’s life, from age 15 to her death at the age of 33), the musical sometimes seems like a series of musical vignettes, rather than a cohesive, ongoing story.

The character of Che (sometimes interpreted as the revolutionary Che Guevara) helps to hold the story together with a running commentary on Evita’s life, providing continuity, and a heavy dose of criticism of Evita, countering her public image as Santa Evita, the patron saint of Argentina. Che shows us a woman who slept her way to the top of her show business career and, once First Lady of Argentina, was more intent on being dazzling than in truly solving the problems of the poor.

Also providing clues to the action is a Greek chorus, who add a dramatic touch.

Directed for CLOC by John R. Lucas, with musical direction by David Moschler, “Evita” is a fascinating look not only at Eva Perón and Argentina, but also the state of the world in the 1940s and ’50s, and the political realities of that time and our own. Unless one is intimately familiar with the life of Eva Perón, however, it does take some attentive listening to the lyrics to follow the action.

The show opens in an unusual fashion, with cast members on stage taking chairs, facing the audience, as the audience is coming in and taking their own seats. Cast members linger and talk to each other, before finding their seats, just as the audience is still conversing. On stage, the Argentine residents are watching a movie, suddenly interrupted with the shocking news that Eva Perón has entered immortality.

The scene switches to the funeral with the simple act of the cast changing the positions of their chairs, as they sing a “Requiem for Evita.” Che, played with just enough cynicism and self-righteousness by Justin John Moriz, introduces us to Eva, stunningly portrayed by Amanda Horvath, who, at 15, yearns to leave her impoverished life in the slums for Buenos Aires.

Both Mr. Moriz and Ms. Horvath have fine singing voices and are well-suited for their roles. Ms. Horvath bears a striking resemblance to Eva Perón, whose likeness is almost constantly displayed on the photo screens, and her voice was often strong and lyrical, rich with overtones. Sometimes, however, her voice was barely audible, and seemed tentative. Since she clearly has the talent for the role, this may have been due to opening night issues.

At 15, Eva convinces her lover, Magaldi, a nightclub singer (“On This Night of a Thousand Stars”) to take her to Buenos Aires, though he thinks it is a bad idea. “The likes of you will get swept up in the morning with the trash,” he sings to her. Patrick J. Hagen is an amusing Magaldi with a strong voice.

In “Buenos Aires,” the raised platform on the stage allows the dancers to add their foot stompings to the rhythms of the music, but it also makes it harder to hear Eva. The choreography is compelling, however.

In “Goodnight and Thank You,” Eva runs through a series of lovers as she rises to the top.

Another humorous and wonderfully done scene follows in “The Art of the Possible,” in which Juan Perón rises to the top of the military leadership by winning a game of musical chairs. Tall and powerful looking, with a voice to match, Brandon Grimes makes a fine Juan Perón.

Eva and Juan finally meet at a charity concert for victims of an earthquake. As another couple (Ethan Contreras and Rachel Marschke) dance the tango, Eva and Juan get to know each other, ultimately joining the tango, another very effective scene.

In “Another Suitcase, Another Hall,” Perón’s mistress (Christine Lacey) is told to leave, and she sings poignantly of the sorrows of love.
“A New Argentina” concludes the first act with a rousing expression of the people’s growing support for Perón.

Act 2 has a number of fine scenes as well, including Eva’s declaration of her “need to be dazzling. The people need it, and so do I,” in “High Flying Adored,” with Che.

“Santa Evita” features four local young people: Grace Brakeman of Woods Hole, who will enter 8th grade in the fall; Fiona Hopewell of Falmouth, who will be going into 7th grade; Pippa Ryan of Falmouth, who enters 11th grade in the fall; and Gussie Gordon of Boston, entering 6th grade. Their sweet young voices were joined by the voices of four women, then the women’s chorus, then the men, building to a powerful conclusion.

Costumes, by Kate Boucher, were well done, evoking the time period, and the social class of the characters. Set design was by Tim Boucher, and choreography was by Heidi Kloes.

“Evita” continues tonight and tomorrow night at 8 at Highfield Theatre in Falmouth. Tickets are $30 and are available by calling 508-548-0668 or by visiting the CLOC box office, 58 Highfield Drive, in Falmouth. Box office hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 AM to 12:30 PM, 2 to 5 PM, and 7 to 9 PM.

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