BWW Review: EVITA at Kauffman Center For The Performing Arts
Playing through this week at Kansas City's impeccable Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, The American Theatre Guild presents Andy Ferrara's new touring production of "Evita" from the revered pens of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The year 2019 marks the fortieth American anniversary of this entirely new approach to musical theater. It is opera (albeit rock opera) that is accessible to a general audience.
The "Evita" idea developed similarly to Rice and Lloyd Webber's earlier hit "Jesus Christ, Superstar." Both were conceived as concert albums that later developed into stage shows. "Evita" eventually won eight 1980 "Tony" awards.
"Evita" tells the two-decade long journey of Eva Duarte Peron. Eva rose from being the secret, poverty ridden, illegitimate, love child of an Argentinian businessman. Eva was ambitious and aggressive and attractive. Men desired her and she leveraged her assets to become a successful actor and eventually bride to Juan Peron, the President of Argentina. As Juan Peron became more powerful, so did Eva. Her charitable foundation for the poor raised her almost to the level of canonization. While on a good will trip to Europe following World War II, Eva fell ill. She was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer. She died at age 33 in 1952. Many poor Argentinians still consider Eva a candidate for sainthood.
This "Evita" stars Yael Reich in the title role with Lance Galgon as the narrator, Che, Gary Burton as Juan Peron and Mathew Malecki Martinez as Magaldi, plus an ensemble of eighteen actors, singers, and dancers. Andy Ferrara's "Evita" from his Plan-B Entertainment/1815 non-equity production company gives a more than serviceable account of itself.
Ferrara's "Evita" is his personal view of the material. Pace is an overriding value and this interpretation differs in feel from previously viewed performances.
Lloyd Webber's score requires exceptional vocal range from the singers. These actors are more than equal to the vocal task in front of them, but may be handicapped by the specificity of Ferrara's direction.
I would have appreciated it if the singers had concentrated on an acting approach to the score rather then the legato renditions they offered on opening night. It almost felt like the actors rushed to satisfy the stage directions.
The show design depends heavily on archival photos and film rear projected on three huge screens on a raised upstage platform. Certain scenes are very impressive. Other projections overpower the live actors.
A sense of the action becomes more difficult than necessary for the audience - especially during Act 1. It takes too long for a new audience member to realize the entire story is being told in flashback.
"Evita" opens as if sitting in a 1952 Buenos Aires movie theater. The visual uses projections, lights trained outward, and a prerecorded soundtrack as an unusually effective device. The film stops and the death of "Evita" is announced. The motion picture venue dissolves into a solemn funeral procession. The dissonance of "Evita's" "Requiem" weighs on the audience as the life tale of Eva Duarte Peron begins.
Flash projections set pieces of the action in time. It would have been helpful to have used this device at the conclusion of "Evita's" funeral to spin us back to her middle teen years when the story really begins.
Act II begins with Eva's European adventure and the beginnings of her illness. She refuses to acknowledge her health challenges. Reich's Evita becomes manic as her health declines. She demands a formal position in the government, much to the consternation of the Argentine military. Eva's collapse and subsequent death serve as a relief to the power structure and a mortal blow to the Argentinian poor who had benefited from her largess.
Peron (in real life) staged an incredible state funeral for Eva. He could not let her go. Even after he left power, Peron kept her corpse nearby for the next 17 years.
"Evita" is a powerful and worthy theatrical experience. Ferrara's view of the classic piece is certainly legitimate. Audience members can judge the result for themselves.
"Evita" continues at the Kauffman Center through Sunday, February 10. Limited tickets are available at https://americantheatreguild.com/kansascity/evita/ or by telephone at 816-944-7222.