Theater Review: EVITA (American Rep in association with Shakespeare Theatre Company in Cambridge MA)

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by Lynne Weiss on July 1, 2023

in Theater-Boston,Theater-Regional


Understudy Isabella Lopez won a heartfelt standing ovation for her captivating portrayal of Eva Perón, the spiritual leader of Argentina last night in this A.R.T. revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) classic Evita (Tony Award Best Musical). Director Sammi Cannold, who visited Argentina repeatedly to research Perón and her times, attempts to “balance” the real Eva Peron with Rice and Lloyd Webber’s conception, emphasizing the power of this historic figure in overcoming sexual assault, her dedication to winning the vote for Argentina’s women, and her determination to bring relief to those living in poverty. It’s a fascinating concept that brings new life to an oft-produced show. What is clear to this reviewer is that Eva Perón was an incredibly charismatic figure who had a hunger and a talent for love: after winning the devotion of a series of men she found her ultimate love affair with the people and the nation of Argentina.

Leah Barsky and Martin Almiron

Co-choreographers Emily Maltby and Argentinian Valeria Solomonoff, along with ensemble members (Martin Almiron, Camila Cardona, Jonathan Lujan, Leah Barsky, Esteban Domenichini) all of whom have tango cred from Argentina, bring authenticity to the thrilling dance sequences. Omar Lopez-Cepero as narrator Che brings objectivity to this musical consideration of Eva’s life and career, for Evita was both loved and controversial, denounced by some as an opportunist who “slept her way to the top” and yet achieving the status of sainthood. Caesar Samayoa (Juan Perón), Gabriel Burrafato (Magaldi), Naomi Serrano (Mistress), and Sky Vaux Fuller (Child) complete the cast, along with a twenty-member dance ensemble and an orchestra of fourteen musicians conducted by Mona Sayed-Bolorforosh.

Omar Lopez-Cepero and cast (Emilio Madrid)Shereen Pimentel and the cast of Evita (Emilio Madrid)

The bio-musical portrays the life of this woman who left a life of small-town poverty at the age of fifteen to go to Buenos Aires with Agustin Magaldi, a tango singer twenty years her senior, in 1935. Once in the big city, Eva Duarte pursued a career as a model, radio personality, and actress and had a series of love affairs with increasingly wealthy and influential men. At a charity event organized for earthquake victims in 1944, she met Juan Perón, then vice president of Argentina and a populist hero. They began a love affair and Eva reached out to Argentina’s poor to build support for Juan Perón. The two married in 1945, and Perón was elected president in 1946.

Shereen Pimentel (Emilio Madrid)
Shereen Pimentel and members of the company (Nile Scott Studio)

As First Lady, Eva won the hearts of Argentina’s lower classes by dressing in designer clothes and expensive jewelry while raising huge amounts of money for charity (though there are questions about whether all the money went to charity) and campaigning for women’s suffrage. Diagnosed with cancer in 1951, she died in 1952 at the age of thirty-three, prompting massive outpourings of mourning and grief. In 2019, a hundred years after her birth, women in Buenos Aires marched in her memory, despite the fact that her career and her support for Perónism remain controversial in Argentina even today.

Caesar Samayoa as Perón and Shereen Pimentel as Eva (Emilio Madrid)
Company of Evita (Nile Scott Studio)

The stunning scenic design (Jason Sherwood), beautiful lighting (Bradley King), and rich sound design (Connor Wang) are all typical of A.R.T.’s visually and sonically thrilling productions. As audience members enter, they see a glittering white ballgown suspended over tiers of white flowers. The show begins with the announcement that “Eva Perón, spiritual leader of the nation, entered immortality at twenty twenty-five hours today.” A crowd of people gather on the stage beneath the disembodied dress to sing Evita’s name.

And then the story begins.

Adrienne Balducci, Bianca Bulgarelli, Maria Cristina Posada Slye,
Leonay Shepherd (Emilio Madrid)
Naomi Serrano as Mistress (Nile Scott Studio)

photos by Nile Scott Studio and Emilio Madrid

Caesar Samayoa and Shereen Pimentel (Emilio Madrid)
Shereen Pimentel and Sky Vaux Fuller (Nile Scott Studios)

American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.)
Harvard University, Loeb Drama Center in Harvard Square
EXTENDED on July 30, 2023
foe tickets, visit A.R.T.

in association with Shakespeare Theatre Company (plays Harmon Hall Sep 5– Oct 8)

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