First staged in 1978, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s “Evita” was an instant success, running in London for more than 3,000 performances over a period of 7 1/2 years, and touring worldwide to international acclaim. It is now playing in the Arts and Culture Centre, the second large-cast, locally produced musical of the St. John’s winter theatre season.
Set mainly in the Argentinian capital city of Buenos Aires, “Evita” celebrates the life of the glamorous and ambitious mistress, and subsequently wife, of Juan Peron, the right-wing soldier-politician, who in the 1946 presidential election was swept to power by the country’s underclass (los descaminados — the shirtless ones). Peron’s consort is the darling of the people, even if she is snubbed by contemptuous army generals and by the ruling class, both in Argentina and abroad. Ultimately, with the anticipated support of the shirtless ones, she aspires to share political power by becoming Peron’s vice-president. But her ambition is thwarted by her death from cancer, followed by her virtual deification by a bereft and grieving populace.
The play starts not at the beginning but at the end, with a candlelight vigil by citizens in black mourning the untimely death of Eva Peron, revered by the people as Santa Evita. Then we are taken back to where it all began..
There are five principals in “Evita.” In the intelligently shaped role of Eva Peron, Kelly-Ann Evans is elegant, radiant and self-possessed. She is superb in song and dance. She has strong support from the other four principals: Kristin Murphy in the role of Peron’s previous mistress, Justin Goulding as a stolid and well-sustained Juan Peron, Steve Power as tango singer and former lover, Agustin Migaldi, and Justin Murphy in the key role of Che Guevara, Peron’s now-disgruntled former comrade. In undershirt and braces, Che is angry and denunciatory, a sceptical and disappointed interpreter of the events we are witnessing.
Webber’s score and Rice’s lyrics, including the repeated signature number of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” articulate a broad and eloquent range of description and commentary in varied musical styles. It is by no means sentimental, though, but sharp-edged and anti-romantic. The score is at times almost astringent, sometimes verging on dissonance. Sophisticated and often difficult song and dance numbers are well synchronized and excitingly executed.
“Evita” calls for a large cast, and this production doesn’t skimp. In addition to the five principals, there is a cast of adults and children totaling, by my count, 65, backed by a 14-piece orchestra.
Deftly directed by Terri Andrews, with musical direction by Bill Brennan, choral direction by Susan Quinn, and fine choreography by Pamela Pittman, TaDa! Events’ flamboyant production of “Evita” played at the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; and the run continues, with two further performances on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, starting at 8 p.m.
With one 20-minute intermission, the show is over by 10:15 p.m., including curtain call and well-merited standing ovation on the part of a large audience that had been absorbed in the production.
And, if you take in this show, please be advised that you will be humming “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” for a goodly while.