Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Evita focuses on the life of Eva Duarte, a poor girl in Argentina who ended up as Argentina's first lady by calculating, scheming, and even sleeping her way to the top. Narrated by Che, a young man who has no respect for Eva and Juan Perón's devious and sometimes illegal ways, the musical provides an interesting history lesson of the highs and lows of politics and also an intriguing story of a poor young woman who gets caught up in the struggle for fame and success.
The driving, sung-through pop/rock score has much to love, with Lloyd Webber's tango-infused music and Rice's succinct lyrics. However, Rice's book leaves out some plot points, forcing the audience to fill in a few gaps. While we know from the opening scene that Eva dies at a young age, which makes her rise to power almost immediately followed by her death in such a short time both intriguing and sad, the musical's ending isn't that strong.
Director and choreographer Andy Ferrara has done a fairly good job of finding a cast who bring passion and energy to their roles. His choreography pulsates with the beat, heat and energy that echo the drive to fame and power we see in Eva and Perón and is well danced by the cast. Bruce Brockman's scenic design may be fairly simple, with just a permanent second-level walkway with a moving staircase and a few smaller set pieces, but with the addition of Mark Ciglar's video elements we are quickly whisked away to the many locations in the show. The use of archive photos and video gives this production the added element of authenticity that I've never experienced before, even more so than the recent Broadway revival and tour which also used some archival elements. Seeing actual photos and newsreel footage of Eva and Juan and the people of Argentina grounds this production in reality. Chad Bonaker's lighting design adds emotion and drama through the use of shadows and deep colors. Ciglar's video designs combined with Brockman's sets and Bonaker's lighting provide beautiful stage images and amazing visuals. Thomas G. Marquez's costumes and wig designs are smart and period specific. Lloyd Cooper's music direction is quite good and Julie Ferrin's sound design ensures that every line of dialogue and lyric is crystal clear.
The cast do well in portraying these fictionalized factual characters. Yael Reich brings an abundance of passion to the driven Eva. She is successful in portraying the eager young woman who is fascinated by the big city of Buenos Aires and sees her ticket to get there in the older tango singer who comes to her hometown. She does equally well in depicting the older Eva who thrives on power, though Eva's decline in health could be slightly better foreshadowed. Reich expertly handles the many fast-paced dance steps, including the somewhat complicated tango during "Buenos Aires." While her singing voice may not soar as high as I'd like it to, her delivery of "You Must Love Me," the Oscar-winning song written for the 1996 film which has been incorporated into this production, is well delivered.
As Che, Lance Galgon's strong singing voice mirrors the strong, angry young man who serves as the show's narrator. Galgon does a good job depicting the anger and frustration at what he sees going around him during the time that Perón was in power, though I wish his line and lyric delivery had a bit more bite. Gary Bartón does very well as Juan Perón. He beautifully portrays the hesitancy and uncertainty of the character, and his performance of "She Is a Diamond," as Perón realizes that almost all of his political success is due to Eva, is infused with introspective thought. With a superb and soaring singing voice, Matthew Malecki Martinez is excellent as Magaldi, the man Eva first latches on to, who takes her to Buenos Aires, and Madeline Ellingson's earthy singing voice instills the role of Perón's Mistress with pain and confusion.
Evita is a musical that has a lot to appreciate in its sweeping score, but it also has some shortcomings in the book which glosses over facts and plot elements. Fortunately, the touring production beautifully depicts the passion, power and romance behind the story of the Peróns and the people of Argentina, and the use of archival imagery helps to fill in some of the gaps.
One side note: on the video image that we see right before Eva sings "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," the date is stated as August 22, 1951, but I believe this should be 1946 which is when Perón first became president. It's a little confusing seeing that date, since we know in the first scene that Eva died in July of 1952 and her tour of Europe, which we see in the show after she becomes first lady, was in 1947.
Evita, through March 3, 2019, at the Orpheum Theatre, 203 W Adams Street, Phoenix AZ. Information on this show and upcoming Broadway at the Orpheum shows can be found at www.americantheatreguild.com/phoenix/.
Director/Musical Staging: Andy Ferrara