‘Evita’ opens in Redwood City
“Evita,” the blockbuster based on the life of Argentina’s Eva Peron, has been a staple of the musical theater for more than three decades, starting as an album and then opening in London before moving to the United States.
Its U.S.appearances started with the production that moved fromLos Angeles to San Francisco and then to Broadway in 1979. Now Broadway By the Bay is staging it.
With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, “Evita” starts with the heroine’s death from cancer in 1952 at age 33, when she was a world celebrity. It then goes back to a small Argentina town in 1934, when Eva Duarte (Alicia Gangi Malone) was a 15-year-old aspiring actress with big ambitions. She connects with a nightclub singer, Agustin Magaldi (Daniel Hurst), and persuades him to take her toBuenos Aires.
There she establishes a career as an actress and radio performer while sleeping her way upward until she becomes the wife of Gen. Juan Peron (Anthony Bernal), who is elected president.
Commenting on her actions is revolutionary Che Guevara (Alex Rodriguez). In real life, the two probably never met, but in the theater he serves as an effective foil to her questionable tactics.
This is BBB’s third go at the show. Then known as Peninsula Civic Light Opera, the company staged it in 1986 and again in 2002 under its present name.
Directed by Jason Hoover, this latest production is intriguing because its staging is new, at least to me. Others have either been directed by the original director, the brilliant Hal Prince, or inspired by him. Likewise, the sets and choreography in those previous shows were based on the original, which included newsreels and photos of the real Eva.
This new approach isn’t nearly as impressive, but perhaps because it’s so spartan, it can offer new insights into the music. Although it might seem that Lloyd Webber is merely recycling some melodies in the two-act show, he’s actually using them to ironic effect to illustrate changes in Eva’s life.
For example, one of the sweetest songs is “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” sung by Peron’s mistress (Samantha Cardenas) after Eva has unceremoniously evicted her from Peron’s bed. One of her lines is “So what happens now?” The male chorus softly replies, “You’ll get by, you always have before.” This refrain is reprised in a final scene between Juan and the dying Eva.
The penultimate number, “Montage,” is just that — a montage of the songs that chronicle Eva’s life from age 15, a kind of deathbed flashback.
Choreography by Alex Hsu comes closest to the original in “Peron’s Latest Flame,” sung by Che, a chorus of soldiers and a chorus of the aristocracy. The soldiers march rectangularly in stiff precision while the aristocrats move diagonally in a lock step of their own. Both groups oppose Eva, but the rousing “A New Argentina,” which immediately follows and ends Act 1, shows how much the common people adore her.
The best-known song is “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” sung by Eva at Juan’s inauguration and in her final broadcast to the nation. Although Malone is an effective actor and good dancer, her singing isn’t up to this demanding role. She sometimes becomes shrill or goes flat.
The others are all good singers, especially Rodriguez as Che, the second-most important character. Unlike his predecessors, who usually wore scruffy beards and fatigues, Rodriguez is well-groomed and wears a suit and tie at first (costumes by Margaret Toomey). He’s then in shirtsleeves and blends in well with the people of Argentina.
David Möschler directs the excellent orchestra.
The set by Jerald Enos features three movable structures with arches. It’s adequate for this show and could probably be recycled for a “Camelot.”
Sound and lighting are the biggest weakness. Jon Hayward’s sound is so loud that it muddies the lyrics. Since the show is sung through like an opera, understanding the lyrics is crucial to following the story.
The lighting by Seamus Strahan-Mauk is too busy, sometimes calling so much attention to itself that it’s distracting, especially when overhead lights swing into the audience’s eyes.
After seeing many previous productions, including the film with Madonna, it’s difficult to see this one as if it were the first and I didn’t know much about the show. It’s likely that many people in the audience, especially the younger ones, actually were new to the show. However, there’s no doubt that the music and most of the performances are captivating whether this is one’s first or eighth viewing.
“Evita” will continue at the Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway St., Redwood City, through April 13. For tickets and information, call (650) 579-5565 or visit www.broadwaybythebay.org.