Theater Review: EVITA (Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C.)

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by Lisa Troshinsky on October 2, 2023

in Theater-D.C.,Theater-Regional


For all the hoopla that is Evita, save for the beautifully haunting ballad “Don’t Cry for me Argentina,” Shakespeare Theatre’s version, directed by Sammi Cannold, was a painful two hours of screeching and unintelligible lyrics. You want to cry for Evita, but may end up crying for the state of musical theater.

Omar Lopez-Cepero (center) and the cast

This performance’s downfall was surely, in part, because the lead, normally portrayed by Shereen Pimentel, was covered by the strident Isabella Bria Lopez, who tended to scream the high octaves, at least during the first half of the show. During the second half, she seemingly got her wits about her, and delivered a more even vocal performance (luckily the iconic ballad was performed at the top of Act II).

Omar Lopez-Cepero

Evita is an emotionally appealing rags-to-riches story. The political biography chronicles Eva Duarte Perón, a woman full of contradictions, who started her young life as a sexual opportunist and became the revered wife from 1946 to 1952 of former President Juan Perón of Argentina. The rock opera by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Time Rice is a wide sweep of 17 years of her life, starting as a teenager who was taken advantage of by a tango singer, Augustín Magaldi (Gabriel Burrafato) and takes us through her marriage to Perón (Caesar Samayoa) to her untimely death at age 33 from cancer. During her reign as first lady she was held in disdain by royalty, but she was adored by the lower classes. The character’s vulnerability is the key to her appeal. The play is also a quick political history of that time, taking us through the process of then military leader Juan Perón’s rise to power. The musical is narrated by an everyman character named Che (Omar Lopez-Ceperio, who lacked projection), an Argentine-born revolutionary and eyewitness to the corrupt Perónistas and a skeptic of Evita’s need for power.

Omar Lopez-Cepero (front), Shereen Pimentel (center), and the cast

The production’s saving grace was the exquisite dancing. Choreographed by the talented Emily Maltby and Valeria Solomonoff , a host of gifted ballroom dancers perform the tango, Argentina’s signature dance. The luscious and erotic movement mirrors Evita’s own personality and charm.

Caesar Samayoa

Designer Jason Sherwood’s dramatically lavish set is stunning, especially in Shakespeare Theatre’s Harmon Hall’s vast stage. The play opens to rows upon rows of flowers and candles, with Evita’s legendary, white strapless gown towering over the fauna. This larger-than-life image looms as massive as Evita’s legacy. Yet the fact that this vision lacks a body inside the dress probably signifies a degree of hollowness in her life — if not the production. At other times, the set seems arbitrary – gigantic movable red neon arches that detract from the seriousness of the political drama that unfolds. And in trying to be historically accurate to Argentine fashion, costumer Alejo Vietti made up almost everyone on stage in shades of white, grey, and beige. Authentic, maybe, but a washout.

Omar Lopez-Cepero (center) and the cast

Overall, Ms. Cannold’s revival, a co-production with American Repertory Theater, is at a high-fevered pitch throughout — frenetic and chaotic — without much downtime to absorb the action. Sure, part of this is because there is no spoken word – it is all song, a histrionic score which leaves the audience needing a respite. But Cannold is going for some kind of Duarte duality here, making Eva at times look like a victim. And with a mostly if not all-Latino cast, this production joins many in recent years that try to turn Evita into “The 100% True and Authentic Story of Maria Eva Duarte de Perón” (some actors had accents, others didn’t). The musical just won’t sustain that. It’s a cynical satire of political corruption, and the effacement of real politics for the politics of celebrity. A topic still very relevant today and in our own country. I get that Evita’s historical evaluation is complex and that Tim Rice likely used very bias sources (the point of Evita isn’t to be historically accurate, anyway — it’s an entertainment), but the attempt to “balance” the real Eva Peron with Rice and Lloyd Webber’s conception just doesn’t gel. This production did it some favors while predictably failing to understand that all Webber is unserious and any attempts to make it so will make everyone involved look stupid. This is yet another loud staged concert losing the larger story and gaining little with its rock-star set and lights. This Evita is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared for an intense musical evening.

Caesar Samayoa (center) and the cast

photos by DJ Corey Photography

Shereen Pimentel

Shakespeare Theatre Company
in association with American Repertory Theater
ends on October 15, 2023
for tickets, call 202.547.1122 or visit STC

Naomi Serrano and Shereen Pimentel (background)

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt October 4, 2023 at 10:57 am

We saw Shereen in the lead roll, and the one word everyone used to describe her performance was “screetchy” as well. Maybe there was a sound design issue, but it was just painful to listen to.


Lou October 7, 2023 at 7:22 pm

I think that Lisa Troshinksy got it just right. This was like an action movie, pushing you away with sound and spectacle, rather than inviting you into the story. We saw the show last night and Shereen Pimentel was just as painful when belting, as her sub was when seen before.

I love musicals, but STC started to blast you away with poor sound. It was after Kiss Me, Kate a few years ago that we ended our 20+ year subscription.


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