Theater Review: EVITA (Cygnet Theatre in San Diego)

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by Dan Zeff on August 14, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego


The Cygnet Theatre revival of the musical Evita has already been extended to October 1, 2023, due to positive ticket buyer interest. Cygnet visitors should find much to admire in the production, though it does have issues. But decent presentations of Evita don’t come around very often, so area musical theater fans should check it out.

Evita was born in England as a concept record album in the early 1970s, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. It progressed to a live stage production that became an international hit, as well as a 1996 motion picture adaptation, starring Madonna, no less.

The show first introduces us to Eva Duarte, an ambitious teenager in a provincial Argentine town who yearns to break out of her current stagnant life to make it big in the flashy capitol of Buenos Aires. She starts her journey to success by attaching herself to a second-rate club singer named Magaldi. Once in Buenos Aires Evita sheds Magaldi and sleeps her way up the celebrity ladder until she connects with a rising Argentine army general named Juan Perón. The rest is history.

Mathew Malecki Martinez and cast of Evita

Evita manipulates Perón to the leadership of the Argentine government and in short order the couple convert their country into a very nasty corrupt dictatorship. The show follows Evita and Perón from the pinnacle of political power to Evita’s slow decline in popularity to her death from cancer at the age of 33.

Liliana Rodriguez, Vanessa Orozco, Susana Cafasso Alvarado

Evita is presented almost entirely sung-through with about two dozen songs, most of them in a Latin style. The Webber-Rice score is led by the familiar “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” sung by Evita from a balcony to a mass of Argentinians crowded into a city square. But the finest number of the night is “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” a heartbreaking lament sung by Perón’s 16-year old mistress after Evita summarily dismisses her from the general’s life. The song was delivered by Vanessa Orozco with a poignancy and a despair that choked me up.

Ariella Kvashny and cast of Evita

There are only three major characters in Evita (Magaldi, played by Matthew Malecki Martinez, and the 16-year old mistress make brief appearances). The heavy acting and singing lifting is handled by the title character, played by Ariella Kvashny, who guides Evita’s from her provincial girlhood to her rise and fall in Buenos Aires to her agonizing death.

A.J. Mendoza, Cast of Evita

Was Evita a ruthless woman on the make, or has she been tagged with a bad rap by hostile biographers and historians who minimize her charitable works and her inspirational connection with her people (she was nicknamed Santa (Saint) Evita)? From my seat, the Cygnet interpretation leans strongly toward Evita the callous manipulator. But this Evita does send sympathetic vibes to the audience in her character’s painful final scenes, so it’s the individual’s call. But nobody can argue against Kvashny’s potent voice that reaches piercing intensity.

Berto Fernández, Ariella Kvashny

Berto Fernández plays Juan Perón a little too tamely. He is a large man with a big voice but he doesn’t evoke the real life thuggish fascist who terrorized Argentina for many years. Still Fernandez’s sorrow at Evita’s approaching death came across as genuine. The third major character is Ché, modeled on Cuban revolutionary Ché Guevarra, who cynically comments on the action from the sidelines and sometimes enters the action. A.J. Mendoza doesn’t give the character much dramatic heft until the second act when Ché’s scorn erupts over the abuses he sees inflicted on Argentina by the Perón dictatorship.

Sean Murray directs masterfully. He has integrated actual newsreel film into the live action on a giant rear stage screen to give events a sense of realism. Murray has made room for an exceptional amount of choreography, most of the dances being tangos vividly performed by the small high energy chorus. The six-piece off stage band sounds like a group three times its size. The behind-the-scenes contributors deserves name commendation–especially music director Partrick Marion, choreographer Carlos Mendoza, scenic designer Mathys Herbert, lighting designer Amanda Zieve, projection designer Blake McCarty, sound designer Evan Eason, and costume designer Zoe Trautmann.

photos by Karli Cadel Photography

Cygnet Theatre Company

Old Town Theater, 4040 Twiggs St.
Wed thru Sat at 7; Sat & Sun at 2
ends on October 1, 2023
for tickets (starting at $32), call 619-337-1525 or visit Cygnet

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