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“In Government, One Actress is Enough!” — Evita Perón

In 1971, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice made a joyful noise on Broadway with “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The Messiah is a tough act to follow. But the duo returned with “Evita” in 1976, powering it to seven Tony Awards in 1980, and achieving considerable success throughout the world. Based on Mary Main’s biography, “Evita: The Woman with the Whip,” the musical explores the rise and fall of Argentina’s self-appointed matriarch—Eva Perón, aka Evita, the charismatic wife of President Juan Perón.

And, in palatial form, One More Productions, who presented a revival opus of “Evita” in 2014 starring Adriana Sanchez, has brought this incredible 18-year-long story back to life yet again, in a lush, freshly imagined Broadway-style production. “Evita,” is on tap to play at the wonderful GEM Theatre in Garden Grove through July 14th, directed by One More Productions’ Damien Lorton, and beneath the flash and filigree, the narrative is still as sharp as a new machete.

Giovanna Martinez and Aaron Gibbs in One More Productions’ “Evita,” now playing at The GEM Theatre in Garden Grove June 6th through July 14th 2024.

Starring Giovanna Martinez as Eva Peron, “Evita” is based on the historical story of María Eva Duarte de Perón, a girl from a poor Argentinian village who grows up to be the wife of the president of Argentina and worshipped by her people. As a young woman who longs for an acting career, fame, and fortune, Eva quickly learns that her feminine wiles hold power among a culture, and a political system, run by men.

After a brief stint in radio, Ms. Martinez’ Eva hitches her wagon to the tango star, Agustin Magaldi (Jack Janowicz), and then draws the eye of Perón, (Edvan Galván) who's simply another Argentine Colonel at the time. But Eva uses a combination of strategy and charisma to soon make him President Perón. After he marries her, of course.

Aaron Gibbs and Giovanna Martinez in One More Productions’ “Evita,” now playing at The GEM Theatre in Garden Grove June 6th through July 14th 2024.

Rice’s political savvy sees through the narratives of official history and revisits popular obsessions in the sung-through musical, drawing out emphasis on the cult of personality, delusions of grandeur, the madness of crowds, and the toxic effects of hero worship.

But Rice’s libretto pokes a pin in Eva’s saintly balloon from the beginning. The musical has a built-in critic: none other than Che Guevara, Argentina’s most well-known idol (until Evita comes along).

Aaron Gibbs (Ctr.) and Company in One More Productions’ “Evita,” now playing at The GEM Theatre in Garden Grove June 6th through July 14th 2024.

In the movie he was played by Antonio Banderas. Only a few years later, Che becomes a major figure of the Cuban Revolution, rising to power through Fidel Castro’s regime. But in this musical, he is simply worldly-wise narrator, revolutionary, gadfly and conscience, all depicted masterfully by Aaron Gibbs. Che’s sarcastic jabs mimic the stings of Evita’s uneasy conscience as she buys her stairway to heaven.

The Company of One More Productions’ “Evita,” now playing at The GEM Theatre in Garden Grove June 6th through July 14th 2024.

As the story opens on stage, we flash forward to see a working-class crowd hear news of Eva’s death. Weeping from the depths of their souls, we hear the chants “Santa Evita!” A wake-like atmosphere spurs the moving “Requiem for Eva.” Che provides a mocking obbligato to the cries of mourning — cries that have the staccato ring of nails being driven into a coffin. Then, when the crowds dissolve, a ghostlike figure descends from the top of the staircase like a spirit from heaven. Che quickly appears to challenge that…she’s no saint, and the musical reboots to the start of Eva’s climb in 1944. Right away, you know what’s at stake. This is more than a war for her soul. It’s a war for the soul of Argentina. After that, sparks continually fly between Che and Eva. Actually, more like sound and fury.

Giovanna Martinez in One More Productions’ “Evita,” now playing at The GEM Theatre in Garden Grove June 6th through July 14th 2024.

But Ms. Martinez truly has charisma, bringing a raw authenticity to her role in a subtle, nuanced performance. And Mr. Galván’s interpretation of Juan Perón as the acquiescent, unassertive “Darrin Stevens” of dictators is exactly how Webber and Rice have framed the role. Mr. Galván’s beautiful baritone, however, made quite the impression. Their duets were crystal clear and magnanimous, including, “I’d be Surprisingly Good for You,” “A New Argentina,” “Rainbow Tour,” and “Dice are Rolling.”

Jack Janowicz in One More Productions’ “Evita,” now playing at The GEM Theatre in Garden Grove June 6th through July 14th 2024.

Mr. Janowicz’ Agustin Magaldi, Eva’s one-time flame, performs supremely in, “On This Night of a Thousand Stars” and “Goodnight and Thank You,” embodying the disposable tango singer with an unflappability worthy of Kevin Klein. “Evita has used me as a stepping stone. Ahh well. Such is life.” She is quick to leave Magaldi, as Che relates the story of how Eva sleeps her way up the social ladder, becoming a model, radio star, and actress (you can almost visualize Che’s fierce intelligence brooding as he thinks to himself…one day, he’ll be running the show. Today, he’ll get started on his enemy’s list).

Edvan Galván (Ctr.) and Company in One More Productions’ “Evita,” now playing at The GEM Theatre in Garden Grove June 6th through July 14th 2024.

Isadora Salekfard in her spotlight role as the young mistress Eva sent packing from Perón’s palace is wounded and disconsolate. “I've just unemployed you,” she snaps to the youngster as she snatches her suitcase and swiftly packs it. As the dispossessed Ms. Salekfard sits forlorn on that suitcase, undone and already forgotten, wondering what cast‐offs do next, we are incredibly taken with her melodic, heart-wrenching plaint that follows (“Another Suitcase in Another Hall”).

And of course it would be an unconscionable misdeed to leave out the exceptional ensemble which symbolizes the people of Argentina who adored Evita. Director Lorton keeps the action taut and well-paced with his well-disciplined group of thespians, who perform with such meticulous skill, precision and dexterity.

Edvan Galván and Giovanna Martinez in One More Productions’ “Evita,” now playing at The GEM Theatre in Garden Grove June 6th through July 14th 2024.

There's no doubt that “Evita” was a fascinating character. One of the show's paradoxical strengths is that its creators can't make up their minds about her. Yes, she ruthlessly slept her way from poverty to the top and did all that she could to manipulate the last of many lovers, Juan Perón, into power. But when she sings “I am Argentina,” is it just hubris? Was her bond with the descamisados, or shirtless ones, simply cynicism? Does it even matter?

But one thing is for certain. Whether Giovanna Martinez is shimmering in triumph or preparing for a poignant death, she is, in fact, sensational. Her Eva has a grin the size of her body, and it can look flirtatious, sassy, voracious or delighted, depending on circumstances. There's also a brashness in her voice when she explodes, at times so jarring that I thought my ears were being attacked with an electric screwdriver—but then again, wasn't that Evita?

When this kid from the sticks hits the capital in the number “Buenos Aires,” it's like a whirlwind of witty, drop-dead determination, with every electrifying high-kick and tumbling, teasing phrase in that furious samba-extravaganza announcing the character's drive, devouring appetite, and sense of arrival. Ms. Martinez has a voracious magnetism and a clarion voice capable of thrilling shrillness and of a pensive purity that's just on the point of curdling. She can also drop into a searing privacy that nonetheless feels partly calculated, as in her extraordinary, modulated reprise of “Don't Cry for Me...” when as a dying woman, she recycles her greatest hit in a renunciatory, self-regarding certainty of her fate.

Her performance, which conveys in song and dance the exuberance of a sexual adventuress and the ardor of a presidential savior she wished to become, brought first nighters to their feet. For me, though, it only takes a few of those famous songs to totally bowl me over.

ONE MORE PRODUCTIONS @ GEM THEATRE, PRESENTS – EVITA; Directed by Damien Lorton, Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics by Tim Rice. Dan Baird – Chief Operating Officer; Nicole Cassesso – Chief Executive Director; Victor Ealey – Box Office Manager; Jeff Segal – Musician Lead; Kara Dillard – Box Office.

The cast of EVITA features: Giovanna Martinez (“Oklahoma,”/”A Chorus Line” - GEM) as Eva Peron; Aaron Gibbs (“Grease,”/”All Shook Up” - GEM) as Che; Edvan Galván as Juan Peron; Jack Janowicz as Magaldi; Isadora Salekfard as The Mistress. Ensemble: Kara Dillard, Talia Doyle, Bryan Fan, Harmony Ishikawa, Alexa Kushner, Allie Kyte, Sabina Martin, Cristina McCallister, Yessenia Munoz, Nate Nolan, Matthew Rangel, Bruno Satalino, Max Seigel, Samantha Selaya, Zorro Sengupta, Myles Williamson and Lindsey VanGerpen.

EVITA, part of the 2024 Main Stage Broadway Series, will run from Thursday, June 6th through Sunday, July 14th at the GEM Theatre, 12852 Main St, Garden Grove, CA 92840. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 2PM. Official opening night, June 8th, includes a 6:45pm Catered Champagne Reception. For Tickets:  NOTE: One More Productions also presents their signature annual fundraiser - Hearts for the Arts - on Saturday, July 27th from 6-9PM.

Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer The Show Report


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