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Interview: Juan Rebuffo of EVITA at San Francisco Playhouse

Rebuffo reflects on his own Argentinian heritage as dramaturg and cultural consultant for the production running June 27 to September 7

By: Jun. 21, 2024
Interview: Juan Rebuffo of EVITA at San Francisco Playhouse  Image
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Back in the mid-1970s when Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, still riding their first wave of fame from the groundbreaking and massively popular Jesus Christ Superstar, announced they had chosen Eva Perón as the subject for their next musical, the news was met with a collective “Huh?” At that point, the controversial Argentinian icon had been dead for over 20 years and was not yet particularly well-known beyond her native country. Of course, Lloyd Webber and Rice’s Evita was about to change all that.

As was their wont, they first released a concept album to whet the public’s appetite. Its showstopping anthem “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” became a top-10 hit in the UK and was soon covered by the Carpenters and others in the US. This was followed by the legendary Hal Prince stage production which opened in London in 1978 to a degree of frenzy that was unheard of at the time, and the rapturous response was repeated on Broadway the following year, making stars of both Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. Over the ensuing years, Evita has enjoyed similar success all over the world, often attracting huge Latinx audiences even though its creators did not themselves hail from that community.

When San Francisco Playhouse decided to produce Evita for a summerlong run, the show’s director (and SF Playhouse Artistic Director) Bill English wanted to take a fresh look at the script. His hope was to infuse the show’s depiction of Eva and her husband, Argentine president Juan Perón, with more nuance and cultural accuracy while still delivering on the attributes that had made Evita such an enduring hit with audiences. The only question was how to go about that.

It turned out that the answer was right under his nose, as it were. He discovered that Juan Rebuffo, a member of the Playhouse’s marketing team, was of Argentinian descent and had even lived there for a time as a child. Even more pertinent, Rebuffo’s family still maintained strongly-held and quite divergent views of Eva Perón and Perónism. Bingo! Rebuffo was asked to join the creative team as dramaturg and cultural consultant.

I spoke with Rebuffo by phone last week to learn more about his contributions to the production. We talked about his own family’s conflicted history living under Perónism and its aftermath, what he hopes audiences will experience from this production that might be a little different from prior ones, and how grateful he is to see part of his own heritage reflected onstage. I found him to be incredibly open and humble, never claiming to be “fixing” the show so much as helping to illuminate and give new depth to what was already in the script. The following conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.   

Interview: Juan Rebuffo of EVITA at San Francisco Playhouse  Image
Juan Rebuffo, dramaturg and cultural consultant for 
Evita at San Francisco Playhouse

The first time I saw Evita was the thrilling Hal Prince production way back in 1980 in Los Angeles. What was your own first exposure to it?

Well, my first exposure was sort of unrelated to the show. My family exposed me to Evita as a concept because Eva Perón and Perónism were hot topics in the family. My grandmother was a young adult in Argentina during the time of Evita, and had the luck and the honor of being chosen to build a home through the Eva Perón Foundation in the late 40s/early 50s. Eva had created the Eva Perón Foundation, which put a lot of money into not just health care and forwarding human rights causes like suffrage, but building more hospitals as well. She also put a lot of money into building homes for people that couldn’t afford them. Her whole platform was basically trying to allow those who are living in rural areas and wanted to live in cities an opportunity to create that life for themselves without being terribly in debt or just not being able to afford it altogether.

Eva Perón was apparently a very complicated figure, with many who loved her and many who did not. What were your own family’s views of her?

It was very polarizing in the house, for sure. Until her last day, my grandmother always felt like she was in debt to Eva Perón. She felt like she owed her life to her because of the home that she was able to nest in and create a family in – the very home that then was a home for me during my childhood as well when I lived there.

It meant everything to her, and so she was in love with Eva Perón and was an avid supporter. But newer generations, like my father for example, not so much. I think it stems from this dichotomy of where you stand politically on socialist ideology, whether you’re conservative, whether you’re not, what do you necessarily believe in, in your politics. A lot of what contributed to the polarity, at least in my household, was also the censorship that had happened post the Perón presidency.

My grandmother got to live through Perónism, she got to live through Eva’s rise, and of course fall and death, and the fall of Juan Perón. But my dad was born in 1958, which was already after Juan Perón had gotten exiled in ’55, and he got to live through what came after Perónism. For almost five decades, essentially, Argentina censored a lot of what had happened during that presidency, because the conservative political party had a huge disdain for Perón.

I think people like my dad that grew up with the propaganda and the censorship against Perón maintained a lot of really visceral negative emotions towards them. It wasn’t until the late 80s to mid 90s that a lot of what had happened during that presidency came out into the light. By then political sides had already formed, and to this day it’s still highly debated, even though there’s plenty of research you can do.

So you inherited this duality of feeling around the Peróns.

Yeah, exactly. I have to play the middle person between it all, especially with family. There’s a way I need to talk to my dad versus the way that I can talk to my aunt, who openly loved and who supports Perónism. Eva Perón is still a big political figure used in the liberal movement in Argentina, to this day. She is still in the conscious minds of any Argentinian almost a hundred years later.

How would you describe your role as dramaturg and cultural consultant for the production?

My role essentially is to be the truth behind a lot of what was written in the show, to add a historical lens to this show that didn’t necessarily have historical accuracy as a foundation. Bill [English] had seen the musical and had a lot of thoughts about it, and for hours and hours and hours over the last few months we’ve basically been bouncing back and forth like “When Eva or Juan or Che says this in the show, what does that mean? Why did that happen? Why is that part of the show? Is that even real? Is there a way that we can make that feel more accurate to the time than how it was portrayed in the script?” So I’m the sounding board, essentially, to try and find out how real we can make this while still maintaining the essence of Evita.

Are you making any changes to the script itself?

No, we’re maintaining the script as is. But it all comes down to the intricacies of the emotions that the actors are going to show you onstage, the relationships between the protagonists and the antagonists. How does Eva feel about Che? How does Che feel about Eva? How do these characters evolve onstage, and what do they leave you feeling? Do you believe the narrator, Che, by the end of the story? Do you feel like he’s giving you the truth, or his truth? Is Eva as angelic or perfect as her people seem to believe, or is there more truth behind that? It’s about how can we establish these relationships to feel as real as they were in real life, and not like give you the agenda that they tried to write into the script when it was first written?

I have to admit that almost everything I know about the Peróns, I learned from Evita. And let’s face it, it’s a musical, and it was written almost 50 years ago now by people who obviously had their own lens. I realize I might have some major misconceptions myself.

Yeah, and honestly it’s to no fault of anyone, truly. I mean, you could say that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber had their own misconceptions just because the landscape in which they were building the show together was quite arid in comparison to 20 years later, in terms of how much information came out. There just wasn’t access to that at the time.

Tim Rice did fly out to Argentina, he did walk through the streets that Eva did, and he tried to talk to as many people as possible to pull together information for the show. Unfortunately, Argentina’s political state at that time was just not ready to give out the full picture, and Tim Rice landed on basing the show on a biography that was written sort of disparaging Eva Perón. Who knows if he picked up that biography because it was the only one that was credible at the time or if that’s what he believed in? I’m not sure. Obviously, I don’t know Tim Rice, but I wish I could ask him questions like that.

But regardless, now that we see the show 50 years later, we have enough information to say okay, generally speaking, there’s a foundation here that they had and it’s something that we can definitely work with, but there are things that we can infuse in there that will make it feel more right, more just for Eva, more just for Juan, more just for Argentina’s history, that will make it feel like you actually learn more about the person and about what happened during that time.

And let’s not forget, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber were trying to write a big hit show, and the mid 1970s were a different time. The dominant Anglo-American culture wasn’t as interested in being authentic to other cultures back then.

Yeah, I think there’s an urgency to historical accuracy nowadays and that’s wonderful. Because we want to make sure that, in the digital age and in a world where we have access to information, we can actually portray these stories the way that they’re meant to be, without misrepresenting anyone. I think that’s the beauty of taking a show like Evita and 50 years later being able to infuse it with something more. So that even someone like yourself, for example, who saw one of the first productions can still come back to it and see something new, feel something new, and say, “Wow, there is more to this than I had thought.”

Interview: Juan Rebuffo of EVITA at San Francisco Playhouse  Image
L to R: Peter Gregus as Juan Perón, Sophia Alawi as Eva Perón, Alex Rodriguez as Che
in San Francisco Playhouse's Evita

“Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” is obviously the best-known song in the whole show. Do you think there’s a way in which your contribution has influenced the staging or the interpretation of that song?

In a way – but I think Bill would actually have a better answer to that because he’s the one staging it. One important aspect behind wanting to represent Eva properly is to understand that the way she’s written originally in the musical is as a sort of stoic, rigid figure. Working with Sophia Alawi (who plays Eva) and Peter Gregus (who plays Juan), and trying to understand who Eva is as a person is infusing a softness, an empathy, a lack of that sort of rigidity and like stuck-upness that she had in the original rendition of this show, and portraying her more like who she was. So that means when we see “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” we’re going to see a different Eva portrayed in that scene. We’re going to see a different set of emotions that I think Sophia Alawi’s going to portray magically.

And so I think the short answer to that question is yes, definitely.

One of the things I did struggle with in the original production was that once Eva becomes ill in the second act, I felt like suddenly we were asked to feel sorry for a character who hadn’t been very sympathetic in the first half of the show. The approach you’re describing to me sounds like a more integrated portrayal of Eva. And let’s not forget, she was a real person.  

Right. I think Tim Rice had a vision, and I think he saw that there was a person that deserved some sympathy. But I think her introduction and her buildup into that character was one we almost can’t sympathize with, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid here. She was a real person who was focused on the good. What maybe was misinterpreted as malice was her ignorance due to how young she was when she acquired all this fame and power and fortune. We almost forget or neglect the fact that she died at 33. By that age, she had become the head of the biggest radio network in Argentina, she had become a big actress, she had become a massive political advocate, she had created a foundation that had helped hundreds of thousands of Argentines.

She says in the show that even if she’d been given a hundred years she wouldn’t be able to get done everything that she wanted to, and so I think that’s sort of the angle that we want to play here. How do we show the person that she was in the first half, so that the second half makes more sense, that you can really resonate with the character even more?

I’m glad you mentioned how young Eva was when she died. When I first saw the show, I was still a teenager so 33 didn’t seem tragically young to me. Now that I’m decades older myself, I realize “Wow! She was only 33?!”

Exactly. As a kid you’re like anything above your age is old, but when you think about it now, it’s like “She did so much at 33!” I mean, some people in their 30s are like “I don’t know what I’m gonna do with my life yet” and that’s totally fair. But the fact that she knew what she wanted to do and she was so dead set on doing that and had accomplished so much by 33? Even as a woman who lived in a very patriarchal world and who didn’t have anyone that mirrored her, like even remotely, in her vicinity she accomplished so much.

As a theater professional, what is the best part of your job? What brings you the most joy?

Well, thankfully, I am also the marketing associate for the Playhouse, so I get the pleasure of working on every single show. [In terms of marketing] I think each one comes with positives and limitations, and so getting to see how we can transmit that to the public and show that there’s a beauty in every story that we stage, that’s my favorite part of working here and working in theater. There is a beauty to every show – and it’s up to me and of course the marketing director as well, Donny Gilliland, to figure out how we can portray that in a way people can resonate with and want to come to see that show. The Playhouse always talks about being the “empathy gym,” so how do we get you to empathize with a new story that you may not have seen before, or may have never even considered seeing before?

More particularly on this show, the best part is to see so much of my history and my upbringing, because I was partially raised in Argentina and my dad lives there again, so most of my family still resides in Argentina. Being able to see my history and my childhood and all the conversations I’ve had throughout that time now influencing a show that’s going to be onstage in the town that I’m very happy to live in - it’s just mind-blowing. It’s definitely not something I had on my bingo card of life. I can’t believe that it’s happening and it’s an opportunity I am very thankful for.

(Evita cast photos by Jessica Palolpoli)


Evita will perform June 27 – September 7, 2024 at San Francisco Playhouse 450, Post Street. For tickets and more information, visit or call the box office at 415-677-9596.


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