Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, book and lyrics by Tim Rice
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
Everything Evita warned us about has come true.
The 1978 Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical about the rise and fall of the real-life First Lady of Argentina, Eva Peron, is being presented as the annual fall gala production at the City Center in New York.
But, as directed by Sammi Cannold, it’s more than just a standard revival of a classic. This Webber-Rice epic was a caution about the scary power of charismatic mass-media stars to inspire the public with false promises, then pick their pockets while suppressing their civil rights. Allied with the army corporal Juan Peron, Evita promised to Make Argentina Great Again in the years immediately following World War II, then robbed the once-rich South American country blind while aggrandizing herself.
Cannold’s production never makes a direct reference to anything happening in American politics today. It doesn’t have to.
Cannold’s staging includes a great innovation. She has split the role of Evita in two. Younger Evita is played by the feisty but vulnerable Maia Reficco; Evita in Buenos Aires is played by the volcanic but ambiguous Solea Pfeiffer. But Reficco doesn’t disappear after the action moves to the capital, as you might expect. She continues to appear throughout the show like a sad ghost—a reminder of poverty-stricken and powerless past that the grown Evita spends her life trying to transcend. This bold staging choice doesn’t change the text but greatly strengthens it.
Pfeiffer brings great power to the title role, but never really takes us inside her character. Is she really an idealistic woman of the people, a she presents herself? Or is she a cynical opportunist who gets control of her country’s levers of power simply to enrich herself? This production tries to have it both ways, and, yes, there are strong elements of both in Evita. But this Evita doesn’t seem certain herself. She remains a cypher.
Enrique Acevedo is an excellent Juan Peron, displaying a ramrod-straight military bearing, but also showing a genuine caring for Eva as her final illness overtakes her. Narrator Jason Gotay has a fine voice, but is too flighty to play the dangerous international revolutionary Che Guevara.
The Webber-Rice score is served well throughout by the leads, by the big chorus performing the Latin-flavored choreography by Emily Malby and Valeria Solomonoff, and especially by the rich, full orchestra (24 chairs), conducted by Kristen Blodgette.
Evita is playing a limited run through November 24 at the City Center on 55th Street in midtown Manhattan.