Front & Center: Evita
When a political figure rises from obscurity and gains worldwide attention, it’s often unclear what the real priorities are—the people’s interests or the leader’s. Such was the case with Eva Perón, wife of Argentinian president Juan Perón, who took office in 1946 and swept Eva along on a tide of popularity. The Rep’s production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, directed by Rob Ruggiero, highlights the contradictions of the deeply polarizing Eva, who stood up for women and the poor but also took full advantage of her fame.
Despite her humble beginnings, Eva speaks as if she’s a queen and the citizens are her subjects; supporters even glorify her as ‘Santa Evita.’ Her husband calls her “a diamond in their dull gray lives” and “the one who has kept us where we are.” Still, the production effectively balances Eva’s pride with glimpses of fragility and insecurity. She struggles to maintain a strong and beautiful facade for the people as her health fails and her world starts to crumble.
The musical was conceived as a rock opera, and the dialog is entirely sung, which makes some of it difficult to follow. But you have to admire the talent of actors who can memorize the music, lyrics and choreography of a challenging two-act play. Michelle Aravena is impressive in the title role, using her vocal talents and engaging presence to reincarnate the proud but vulnerable Eva. Pepe Nufrio is equally memorable as the young narrator Che, who winds his way through the story with humor and wit, calling out the ironies and conflicts in each scene. I thoroughly enjoyed Sean McLaughlin as the proud Juan, too—he has played this role before as part of a national tour, and it shows. Gustavo Zajac’s choreography, Charlie Alterman’s music and Alejo Vietti’s costumes are truly captivating as well.
The show’s soaring second-act anthem, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” was thrilling to hear and brought back fond memories of a national production I saw years ago. (The famous melody is woven cleverly into the music of act one, so the audience gets a tantalizing taste of it as soon as the story opens.) I loved the irony of Eva standing high above the crowd in a sparkling white couture gown, singing “Don’t keep your distance,” when the gulf between her and the people could not be more glaring.
The set is cleverly crafted and truly conveys how Eva was viewed by her supporters. You get a strong sense of her imposing personality from the huge propaganda image of her on the backdrop, and a revolving section of the stage lends a dreamy quality to the changing scenes.
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