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REVIEW: "Evita" — P3 Theatre @ The Ernest Borgnine Theatre, Long Beach

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

“How She Lived, How She Shone…But How Soon the Lights Were Gone”

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. The lyrics and storyline are based on Mary Main’s biography, “Evita: The Woman with the Whip.” The musical explored the rise and fall of Argentina’s self-appointed Madonna—Eva Perón, aka Evita, the charismatic wife of President Juan Perón.

“Evita” began as a rock opera concept album in ‘76, which led to a musical stage production in London's West End, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical, and then went on to Broadway, where it was the first British musical to receive the Tony Award.

And, in palatial form, P3 Theatre Company, celebrating their grand opening season, is bringing this improbable 18-year-long story to life in the company’s first lush, freshly imagined Broadway production. “Evita,” is on tap to play at the wonderfully ornate Ernest Borgnine Theatre through this Sunday, September 29th, and beneath the flash and filigree, the narrative is still as sharp as a new machete.

Rice’s cynical, political savvy sees through some of the false narratives of official history like an X-Ray machine. With “Evita,” Rice also revisits popular obsessions in the musical, including his aforementioned “…Superstar,” drawing out emphasis on the cult of personality, delusions of grandeur and the madness of crowds, and concentrating on the toxic effects of worship to the person on the pedestal.

Considered a sung-through, the story explores the calculated ascent of Eva Duarte, a talented, smart urchin from a poor Argentinian village who used her looks and talent to beat a hasty retreat from that village and go straight to the top. After a brief stint in radio, Eva (Christy Mauro-Cohen, formerly Patsy Cline in “Always,” “Victor/Victoria”) hitches her wagon to the tango star, Agustin Magaldi (Zach Appel, “Nickelodeon’s Henry Danger,” “South Pacific”), and then draws the eye of Perón, (Rudy Martinez, “Man of La Mancha,” “Fiddler on the Roof”) who's simply another Argentine Colonel at the time. But Evita’s a far better chess player. Taking full charge of his political future, she uses a combination of strategy and 200-proof charisma to make him President Perón. After he marries her, of course.

Hagiography is always a danger with a larger-than-life figure like Evita. But Rice’s libretto pokes a pin in her 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” came along. In the movie he was played by Antonio Banderas. In this musical, he is worldly-wise narrator, gadfly and conscience, depicted masterfully by Euriamis Losada (“Romeo and Juliet,” “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”).

Che’s sarcastic jabs mimic the stings of Evita’s uneasy conscience as she buys her stairway to heaven. What does it profit a diva to gain the world but lose her soul? That’s the unspoken question. With that, Director/Choreographer Jimmy Hippenstiel has his own X-Ray vision, and the action is taut and well-paced. He dives right into the tension of the musical from the very first scene with precise choreography with his well-disciplined group of thespians.

As the story opens, a working class crowd watches one of Evita’s old black and white movies. The film stops, and they hear news of her death. Weeping from the depths of their souls, we hear the chants “Santa Evita!” A wake-like atmosphere surrounds an open coffin as we listen to “Requiem for Eva.” Then, the crowds dissolve and like a spirit from heaven, a ghostlike Evita descends from the top of the staircase. Che quickly appears to tell us that…she’s no saint, and the musical reboots to the start of Evita’s climb in 1944.

Right away, you know what’s at stake. This is more than a war for Evita’s soul. It’s a war for the soul of Argentina. After that, everything hits the ground running. Sparks fly between Che and Evita. Actually, a bit more like sound and fury, thanks to Director’s storytelling. But you get the point.

The same clarity is brought to the choreography. It’s never a spectacle for spectacle’s sake. Each dance number tells a story or clarifies a story point. The actors do a second-to-none job with the densely packed, fast-moving story.

Ms. Mauro-Cohen has charisma — and then some. She brings a raw authenticity to her role. (As opposed to, say, Madonna.) Like the Wizard of Oz, Evita is the woman behind the curtain putting on the big show of her public self. It’s a subtle, nuanced performance.

Mr. Martinez’ interpretation of Juan Perón as the acquiescent, unassertive “Darrin Stevens” of dictators is exactly how Webber and Rice have framed the role. The man is subservient to Evita and has little fire. But if he had, Evita would not appear so strong; without Evita’s mojo, he’d probably still be a Colonel. Mr. Martinez’ beautiful baritone, however, still rings in my ears. Their duets were crystal clear and magnanimous, including, “I’d be Surprisingly Good for You,” “A New Argentina,” “Rainbow Tour,” and “Dice are Rolling.”

Agustin Magaldi, Eva’s one-time flame, performs supremely in, “On This Night of a Thousand Stars” and “Goodnight and Thank You.” Zach Appel embodies the disposable tango singer with unflappability worthy of Kevin Klein. “Evita has used me as a stepping stone. Ahh well. Such is life.” Eva is quick to leave Magaldi, and Che relates the story of how Eva sleeps her way up the social ladder, becoming a model, radio star, and actress.

Emily Abeles (“Parade,” “The Little Mermaid”) in a spotlight role is wounded and disconsolate as the exceedingly young mistress Evita sent packing from Perón’s palace. Her tender swan song in the show, however, entitled “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” was one of the best performances of all.

In this show, Mr. Losada finds an unseasoned new take on the musical’s Che character. He’s not the battle-tested guerilla strategist at first. His Che is actually just a kid of 16-years when Evita starts her climb. In the “real world” of the musical’s street actions, he’s considered an instigator with a big mouth. Buenos Aires’ brown-shirt thugs can beat him with impunity, and they know it. Nobody’s watching Che’s back. You can almost visualize Che’s fierce intelligence brooding as he takes the blows. One day, he’ll be running the show. Today, he’ll get started on his enemy’s list. In this “Evita,” Che finally feels like a real character, not just a narrative device. Kudos to the amazing Mr. Losada for an exemplary performance.

But we can’t leave out the exceptional ensemble which symbolizes the people of Argentina with their wide variety of vocal numbers and dance routines they perform with such meticulous skill and dexterity. They include Mark Anthony Torres (also Understudy for the role of Agustin Magaldi), Elizabeth Curtain (Understudy for the role of Eva), Lily Bryson (Understudy for Peron’s Mistress), Celeste Alvarez, Ryan Axberg, Alden Bettencourt, Alejandro Cervantes, Gianna Holiday, Atticus Korman, Kelly McGaw, Jodi Marks, Max Ritter, Johann Santiago Santos, Paty Silva-Broderick, Gabi Simmons (also is Dance Captain), Sheri Vasquez, Rachel Williams and John K. Wilson. Los Ninos comprised Shira Baron, Liana Bethard, Madison Llamas, Grace Markus and Zoe Markus.

The technical team behind the production is also first-rate. Jon Peterson is the Executive Artistic Director, Bill Wolfe is the Music Director, and Josh Neel’s lighting is cinematic—like the saturated colors of a Vincente Minnelli romance. Jenny Wentworth’s costume design was impeccable, outfitting the company in attractive fittings with Eva’s dresses especially beautiful. The faultless sound design is by Brandon Millett; wigs & hair design is perfectly coiffed by Kathryn Scott and the affable Cliff Senior. Props and production are by Betsy Paull with production assistance by J. Rikki Taylor. Stage manager is Taylor Simmons.

The set designed by Sean McClelland is functional and imaginative with revolving doors of unhappy, jilted bachelors. The movable staircases allow side scenes up-top, symbolizing the balcony at The Pink House, also known as the Presidential Palace. The Palace is home to the balcony that Evita often used to address throngs of Peronists — known as the shirtless ones because many were poor laborers — gathered in the plaza up and down the avenue simply to get a glimpse. It became iconic as the setting for the musical’s signature song,“Don’t Cry for Me Argentina." The versatile set aptly evokes Buenos Aires as a New World colonial city and morphs swiftly from a grungy slum to a palace courtyard in seconds.

But technical excellence aside, what’s the takeaway? Well, It’s really a dazzling production and has abundant moral lessons. Power, as they say, is a Faustian bargain. Don’t sell your soul along with it. But then, you probably shouldn’t trust the public face of politicians anyway. Because a revolutionary seeking power has the same problem as a dog chasing a car. What do you do if you actually get it?

When Eva finally realizes she is close to death, she swears her eternal love to the people of Argentina ("Eva's Final Broadcast").

Eva's achievements flash before her eyes before she dies ("Montage"), and she asks for forgiveness, contemplating her choice of fame instead of long life ("Lament"). Eva dies, and embalmers attempt to preserve her body forever. Che notes, however, that “a monument was set to be built for Evita but only the pedestal was completed when Evita's body disappeared for 17 years..."

Since then, Eva Perón has become a part of international popular culture, fostered significantly by the 1978 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. In 1952, shortly before her death from cancer at the age of 33, Eva Perón was given the title of "Spiritual Leader of the Nation" by the Argentine Congress, a prerogative generally reserved for heads of state.

There is now only limited performances remaining to attend this production of “Evita,” playing through September 29th with a final performance at the 2pm matinee. Ticket information and performance times are available at Running time is two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission. This is an absolutely thrilling show featuring pristine voices and a classic presentation. Why don’t you make this weekend one to remember!

Chris Daniels

Arts Reviewer

The Show Report



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