Review: A.R.T.'s EVITA is Stirring and Gloriously Sung

The American Reportory Theater presents Evita through July 30 at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge.

By: Jun. 12, 2023
Review: A.R.T.'s EVITA is Stirring and Gloriously Sung
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There is little mystery to be found in the musical “Evita.” After all, it begins and ends with the death of its title character, Eva Perón.

As the stirring, gloriously sung new production currently being presented by the American Repertory Theater – in association with Shakespeare Theatre Company, at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge through July 30 – proves, however, there is still opportunity aplenty to be swept up in the story of the Argentinian actress who went on to become the country’s First Lady, wife of army general-turned-dictator Juan Perón.

Longtime fans of the show – some who undoubtedly still treasure their copy of the 1976 rock opera concept album – have known this since the musical, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics and book by Tim Rice, premiered in London in 1978, and then opened in New York the following year.

Both of those productions were directed to award-winning acclaim by Harold Prince and further fueled by star-turn performances in the title role, by Elaine Paige in London’s West End and Patti LuPone on Broadway.

In this new production – first presented at New York City Center in 2019 – the clarion-voiced Shereen Pimentel brings glamor, gravitas, and pathos to the role, which director Sammi Cannold has reimagined by emphasizing the dimensions of Eva's victimhood along with her more familiar villainy.

While Eva is manipulating her way to the top, bedding and then discarding an array of increasingly powerful men, Cannold shows us that all that climbing and clawing left scars not only on the men but also on Eva, whose carnivorous quest began while she was still a teenager. It may be hard for some to imagine Eva as a victim, but Cannold's direction leaves that possibility open.

Cannold so briskly paces act one, perhaps trying to convey Eva’s own meteoric rise from an impoverished youth to the height of political power, that it seems almost like a concert staging. That’s not a terrible thing, though, given the splendid Lloyd Webber score, the catchy, clever Rice lyrics, and a company of superb singers.

With act one’s “Oh, What a Circus,” Che (Omar Lopez-Cepero) – a not-so-adoring member of the public – mocks the crowd of Perónistas known as “descamisados” (the shirtless ones) gathered to mourn Eva. Loosely based, on the concept album and in the original production, on real-life revolutionary Che Guevara, the Che character serves as a counterpoint to Eva, offering sardonic asides on her many machinations.

Here, as in some previous mountings, the allusions to Guevera are absent. Lopez-Cepero is garbed not in military fatigues but in ill-defined attire that fails to pull him forward, instead weakening his stand-alone status. Indeed, Che seems to fade away after making his points with numbers like “Good Night and Thank You” and “The Lady’s Got Potential,” when he should be an ever-present burr in the side of the protagonist as he is on “High Flying Adored” and “Rainbow Tour.”

Conversely, Caesar Samayoa’s Juan Perón is more fully developed and less stiff than in earlier productions, making his marriage and political partnership with Eva feel more real. Also doing fine work are Gabriel Burrafato as tango singer Augustin Magaldi (“On This Night of a Thousand Stars”) and Naomi Serrano as a young Perón mistress shown the door by Eva on the affecting “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”

The technical elements in this production, which heads next to Washington, D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company, are generally strong, beginning with Alejo Vietti’s costume designs which include an array of white-palette dresses and tailored suits for Eva. Vietti has also beautifully recreated the iconic Dior gown with its tightly fitted bodice and voluminous tulle skirt shown off to perfection by Pimentel.

Emily Maltby and Valeria Solomonoff’s choreography is crisp, sharp, and eminently worth watching, with their smashing act one tango a stand-out.

Scenic designer Jason Sherwood keeps things mostly minimal, augmented by Bradley King’s mood-setting lighting design. Purists will likely miss the classic Casa Rosada balcony set, but may come around to its replacement here, proscenium-filling stairs blanketed in lush white roses. When Pimentel delivers the show’s signature song, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” at the top of act two, the visual is as stunning as the vocal.

Photo caption: Shereen Pimentel (Eva) and members of the company of “Evita” at American Repertory Theater’s Loeb Drama Center. Photo credit: Nile Scott Studio.


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