Emerson Umbrella Rocks With Stellar ‘EVITA’ (4.5 Stars)
EVITA, a musical with music by Andrew Loyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. Producer/Director, Brian Boruta; Music Director, Maria Robinson; Choreographer, Lara Finn; Stage Manager, Cathie Regan; Lighting Designer, Seif Cristobal; Sound Designer, Alex Savitzky; Costume Designer, Elisabetta Polito. Presented by Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts at 40 Stow Street, Concord, MA through November 29th.
The power of the show EVITA is not that it is an Andrew Loyd Webber/Tim Rice production, which is reason enough, but that it is based upon the life of a real person who started as “one of us,” and never forgot it. Or at least never forgot to remind us of her humble roots as her ambition grew and she rose through the ranks to become the “Spiritual Leader” of Argentina. Eva Peron, the second wife of Argentine president Juan Peron, is immortalized in the production, EVITA. And yes, the soundtrack is amazing.
In EVITA, the complexity of Eva’s character is completely captured by Jess Andra, as she ages from a 15-year-old dark-haired girl with curls growing up in poverty, savvy enough to make (bribe) her way to Buenos Aires, until her death from cancer at the age of 33. Along the way, she becomes a starlet at 22 (via the “casting couch”), meets the “right” people (becomes a mistress) to rise to power, and marries a president to become First Lady at 24. It takes more than a fantastic costume, wig, and make up team to age someone like Evita on stage. There are many transitions in her short life’s tale and Andra handles them marvelously, showing the audience her character’s new maturity at each step – in fashion sense (classic style and memorable blond chignon), in social reform as she becomes the “saint to the working-class,” and when she sings, “Don’t Cry for me Argentina,” the standard for this musical. Yes, Evita can be manipulative, arrogant, and ambitious, but she is also charismatic. Andra’s performance is compelling and by the time her final song rolls around, it is hard not to hold back tears.
To know who is who in EVITA, one has to pay attention to Che (Ken Bayliss), the narrator, who assesses Evita’s situations and introduces us to the people who are important at different turning points in her life. He has a strong voice and presence, representing the working class and offering political commentary. The first person Che points out is Magaldi (Eric Dwinnells), who Evita takes advantage of in order to get to Buenos Aires and then promptly dumps. Che then makes a point to introduce the figure of Colonel Juan Domingo Peron (David Ieong), an ambitious military man who is making his way up the Argentine political ladder. Evita meets Peron after a charity event, coming back to his residence, and promptly dismissing Peron’s Mistress (Kara Nelson). Nelson’s clear voice is arresting as she sings, “Another Suitcase In Another Hall”.
Peron, Evita, and their allies plot to dispose of anyone who stands in the way of his being elected president. “A New Argentina” is a song and scene that took my breath away. Andra belts out, “He supports you for he loves you, understands you, is one of you! If not… how could he love me?” as she tries to convince the people to vote for Peron and reminds us, again, of her roots. We are left thinking, ‘Is she sincere or manipulative?’ These lyrics and this music are powerful; one of those memorable moments like in Cabaret or Miss Saigon, when military might or indifference, respectively, make our hair stand on edge.
The ensemble worked well together supporting the few main roles in this production. While the choreography was fine, the actors and ensemble seemed uncomfortable and movements appeared stilted, maybe because dancing is not their forte? On the other hand, this worked to an advantage for the soldier’s routines, as their formal steps and regimented singing enhanced their role. I particularly liked “Peron’s Latest Flame.” Since I attended on the first night, which was sold out, I expect that the dancing will improve with each performance.
The staging of enlarged photographs of Eva and Peron and screening of archived film footage from her enormous funeral reminds all of us that Evita was a person loved by many, and pulls at our heartstrings in a must-see local performance of EVITA. For more info, go to: