WASHINGTON, DC- When we mention the names Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber we have reached the stratospheric pantheon of theatre’s most beloved musical composer/writer teams. Their blockbuster Evita is known as the pinnacle of their collaborations with a score so beautiful and so deeply affecting.
In a co-production with Massachusett’s American Repertory Theater, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Simon Godwin presents the work of the show’s Director Sammi Cannold and includes the cast from the Boston production.
Eva Perón was Argentina’s most storied heroines – despised, revered and adored. We are fascinated by her rise to power and are moved to wonder what is the allure of this woman who pulled herself up by her bootstraps from abject poverty – from a life as a tango dancer deserted by a trail of lotharios? For many it is how she obtained the extraordinary power she wielded and how she used her husband’s position to get to the top. How did she fool an entire nation? In truth, it was by hook and by crook.
The show opens in 1952 at the funeral of Evita Perón. Considered the spiritual leader of the people of Argentina, she was a highly controversial figure – a First Lady who had risen from a life on the streets by her wits and beauty and a series of ever-more influential lovers. But her greatest success was marrying an ambitious soldier, Juan Perón (Caesar Samayoa). We hear this in the lyrics of Evita (Shereen Pimentel) and Juan’s duet, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You”. She wins him over and by the next number “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, she and Juan have formed their indelible alliance – for better or for worse.
As her protector, reality check and the story’s narrator, Che Guevara (Omar Lopez-Cepero), who later became one of the world’s most impactful revolutionaries, seeks to anchor Eva’s wild and self-absorbed lifestyle. Their duet “High Flying, Adored” is one of the most memorable numbers in the show and reflects the time when she is at the height of her popularity and public sanctification. In it he warns her, “Don’t look down. It’s a long way.” But Eva ignores his advice, and her megalomania gets the best of her. When she appears in all her scintillating glory on the balcony of Casa Rosada, the grandiose presidential palace, he sarcastically remarks, “One has to admire the stage management.” And in one of the show’s most heartrending songs “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, we witness her narcissism as she cannily humbles herself to the adoring crowds.
There are no program notes from Director Cannold so we don’t really know her intention in this very modernized version taken broadly from the original Broadway production. Just know that it is very different.
Mona Seyed-Bolorforosh conducts the magnificent 16-piece orchestra. How can you not swoon for the music? Costumes by designer Alejo Vietti are grey – soldiers, officers, street people and dancers. Only Evita wears white throughout. Lighting Designer Bradley King frames the entire stage with red neon lights adding five white neon arches and a ceiling covered with lines of bright red neon rods. The significance of all that neon escapes me. Another unusual twist is the set by Scenic Designer Jason Sherwood that is devised of long neon-lined risers reaching across from stage left to stage right. These slender risers are topped with what appears to be old-fashioned fluffy attic insulation and lit with battery operated candles. Again, I am puzzled. Is it meant to represent the dirty streets she came from? Who knows? Perhaps, it will have greater meaning to you.
Lastly, there was a distinct buzz throughout the audience as to the poor sound quality – bass notes seemed to disappear; high notes were screechy. Others around me were having the same reaction to the poor audio and they were talking about it. It was so confounding and in sharp contrast to the usual excellent acoustics at Harman Hall that, upon leaving the theater, I asked the sound board engineer if he could explain it. He told me ART had brought their own sound system for this production. One can only hope it will be corrected by the time you read this review.
Magaldi, Gabriel Burrafato; Young Cadet/Ensemble, Eddie Gutiérrez; Child/Ensemble, Melissa Parra or Ariadne Rose; Mistress/Ensemble, Naomi Serrano.
Choreography by Emily Maltby & Valeria Solomonoff; Sound Design by Connor Wang.
Through October 15th at Harman Hall, 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.