September 22, 2003
Senora Maria Eva Duarte de Peron was either a saint or a sinner, depending on who is telling the story. In the Tim Rice, Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita, now on stage at Theatre Charlotte, she is charming, manipulative, and perhaps sincere in her role as populist representative of the Argentine people. The diamonds and applause that accompanied the job didn’t hurt her motivation a bit.|
Evita is an odd mix of fact and fiction that celebrates and lightly illuminates this most famous of Argentine women. According to Rice, who wrote the book and the lyrics, Eva Duarte had no class, no money and no father when she hooked up with a guitar player named Magaldi and used him as her meal ticket to Buenos Aires.
There she became a radio star, a status that led to her fateful backstage meeting with the powerful Juan Peron in 1944. Eva immediately seduces Peron, kicks his current mistress out of the house, and encourages him to run for President, with herself as his wife. The people of Argentina fall madly in love with her, and she falls madly in love with both them, and the limelight.
The story is narrated by Che Guevera, the Argentine born Marxist revolutionary and Cuban guerilla leader, proving this is drama, not history, as Guevera and Evita never met. But Guevera provides an interesting counterpoint as he stalks the stage in his jungle camouflage, challenging both Evita’s intentions, and her legitimacy as a revolutionary force. “Do you represent anyone’s cause but your own?” he asks her.
Actress Cat Zeggert deserves a big star on her dressing room door for tackling the demanding role of Evita while suffering from laryngitis. Though her voice was not in top form, her attitude was, as she captured Evita’s charm, moxy and manipulative ways. She is especially effective in the transition from a passionate firebrand, to a mortally ill patient who can barely walk.
Patrick Ratchford’s rough and outspoken Guevera nicely challenges Evita’s tenacity. Dennis Delamar’s portrayal of Peron leaves us mystified as to whether he is fond of his wife, or just finds her as useful as she finds him.
The musical score has several gems; other songs are forgettable. “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” and “The Art of the Possible” are two of the best. “Buenos Aires” is strangely unmelodic. On two occasions the stage lights were flashed directly in the audience’s eyes. Perhaps this is supposed to make us feel like part of the production. I prefer to be in the dark.
Linda Booth’s choreography is dynamic, especially in the scenes where the aristocracy, wearing tailored suits, and tilted hats, move as one group, like figures in an oil painting. The precision movements of a battalion of singing soldiers is also engaging.
The play opens and closes with a coffin on-stage, which does a number on the audience. It seems so impolite to applaud at a funeral. Evita won seven Tony Awards when it premiered on Broadway in 1980. An extravagant musical is an appropriate way to celebrate a woman whose legend has outlived her 33-year-old life.
Lynn Trenning, September 22, 2003