BWW Review: Don't Cry for Cabrillo's Must See EVITA
EVITA/lyrics by Tim Rice/music by Andrew Lloyd Webber/choreographed by Cheryl Baxter/directed by Roger Castellano/Cabrillo Music Theatre at Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza/through October 23 only
Tim Rice's & Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita has had a thirty-eight year international love affair with the public since it premiered in 1978 in London and in 1979 on Broadway. The newest revival in regional theatre is currently at Cabrillo in Thousand Oaks until October 23 only.
An operetta, or rock opera, with no spoken dialogue, and based on Eva Duarte Peron and husband Juan Peron of Argentina, the story documents the rise to power of a simple peasant girl to the rank - almost - of Vice-President of her country. I say almost because she became too ill to accept the nomination in 1951 and passed into immortality in 1952 after a seven year reign as First Lady of Argentina, which began in 1946. Evita: criminal or saint? has been the topic of books and documentaries. Eva caused Argentina to go bankrupt as she fed the poor or descamisados. It doesn't really matter. She was so adored by the working class that her body was stolen from its grave and went missing for seventeen years. Saint or not, her greed and ambition mark her as one of the most fascinating women of the 20th century, whose crazed yet passionate life fits an overblown opera to the letter. She even died at 33, the age at which Jesus Christ expired. Is it any wonder that she has reached iconic status?
Cabrillo's new production is taut and sleek. Most of the action plays front, downstage, and Evita returning to stand behind her coffin at play's end as her adoring public pay homage to her offers a chilling portrait of the image of angel/devil. Cheryl Baxter's choreography is outstanding as an ensemble of twenty+ great singers/dancers move continuously and fluidly around Eva (Cassandra Murphy), Juan (David Kirk Grant) and Che (Marc Ginsburg). The role of narrator Che, based on the revolutionary Che Guevara, is more a simple everyman, which adds intrigue and fascination, particularly when he moves from the lower stage to the balcony and crosses it with great assurance and control. Power is such an unstable commodity! He is also a reminder/mirror to Eva in the "Waltz for Eva and Che" of where she came from, and in the eyes of the military, where she belongs.
The ensemble is divine. Murphy makes a stellar Eva - possessing much, much more than just "a little touch of star quality" - with lovely voice and consistently intense drive and fervor. She allows us to see the manipulation while still retaining Eva's enigmatic side, as it should be. Ginsburg as Che is a powerhouse actor and singer, making Che his very own creation. Grant is stalwart as Peron, who stands tall and loyal to the woman who put him where he is. Quite remarkable in this production is the maintained balance between the three, one never overstepping the other; each has several turns in the spotlight, and we feel their power equally. Isa Briones is lovely as Mistress with her one number "Another Suitcase in Another Hall", and Bill Ledesma as Magaldi is also a terrific singer who creates yet another dynamic portrait of ambition. Both Lesdesma and Briones join the chorus when they are not essaying their roles.The ensemble work together like clockwork under Roger Castellano's and Baxter's leads, creating an indelible, unforgettable picture of the era. Beth Glasner 's costume designs are stunningly authentic. Eva's many outfits in white are beautiful, a deliciously intriguing virginal choice for such a tainted woman.
When you have a great chorus of singers, they do justice to the music, making Rice's and Webber's music reverberate. "Requiem", "A New Argentina", "High Flying, Adored", "Rainbow Tour", "Don't Cry for Me Argentina"... the entire score, in fact, sounds amazing. The inclusion of "You Must Love Me", written for the 1996 film of Evita and which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song, adds a curiously sympathetic touch to Eva's personal dilemma as she approaches her early demise.
Evita remains my favorite Andrew Lloyd Webber musical of all time. Apart from the majestic musical score, I find the story thrilling and fascinating to watch. Cabrillo's is indeed a stunning production... beautifully staged, well acted, danced and sung. I have seen Evita so many times that upon each visit, I try to gain something fresh and new. Well, what else can I say that this year, it's a perfect choice the month before our Presidential election, offering a clear glimpse into full-out corruption in politics. It is no wonder that this political Cinderella story is still a hit after nearly 40 years. It's ageless.
(photo credit: Ed Krieger)