Los Angeles Theater Review: EVITA (Musical Theatre West in Long Beach)

by Tony Frankel on February 13, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles

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AND EVITA KEEPS ROLLING IN

That great balcony scene is back. No, not R&J. It’s the one with Eva Duarte Perón’s valedictory aria “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.” As this princess of the pampas in a prom dress chokes, then belts out, the second-act opening of the 1978 musical, all the right buttons get pushed: The Casa Rosada confessional delivers the peak payoff in Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s perennially popular Evita. But the best thing about Musical Theatre West’s outing is the surprisingly good star turn of Ayme Olivo, whose whore-turned-icon commands the Carpenter Performing Arts stage. Hers is a microcosm of the “star quality” that the mistress-wife of dictator Juan Perón (Davis Gaines, who refuses to suck in any part) indulged and inflicted on Argentina for a mere eight years. (I shouldn’t be too surprised; Olivo was a knockout as Morales in MTW’s A Chorus Line.)

It’s ironic that Evita’s accuser and nemesis, the show’s narrator and conscience Che (Richard Bermudez, merrily taunting and teasing with a voice from the gods), to sing that “she did nothing for years.” As if knowing she had so little time, she did too much that needed undoing. For 140 minutes the musical’s newsreel-like exposition belies that silly critique: We see Evita rejecting small-town persecution as her father’s unacknowledged whelp, exploiting a tango singer Magaldi (the great Zachary Ford) who takes her to Buenos Aires, turning soap-opera radio star at 22, then, two years later, seducing an up-and-coming general at an earthquake benefit and displacing his mistress (the lovely and memorable Ashley Marie).

After that the respectable Senora Perón (now 27) becomes a self-made saint, embarking on an ill-fated PR “Rainbow Tour” of Europe, promoting her larcenous charitable Fundación (an early tax shelter), and unsuccessfully scheming to become Vice President to her upstaged hubby. Completing her own canonization, she dies young at 33 and leaves behind a corpse that over the next 17 years traveled almost as much as she did.

What fascinates with Evita is the creators’ love-hate ambivalence over the title — what? — martyr, monster, dominatrix, proto-feminist heroine. The revulsion against this pushy parvenu doesn’t just erupt from the military or plutocracy: Che’s running jeremiads indict her for betraying the descamisados (shirtless ones) who she first championed, oppressing the press, and stripping Argentina of gold reserves, beef exports, and, not incidentally, human rights. But, as the musical exists to prove, she did it with such style.

And the style here is all about the sound, boosted by a perfect design courtesy of Audio Production Geeks LLC. David Lamoreux fiercely led a large orchestra and 30 (!) golden-throated ensemble members, children included, to give us the best sung Evita since the astounding National Tour (Bermudez’ Che really was a knockout.) Larry Carpenter’s staging was somewhat static, Kevin Clowes’ steel scaffolding set looked more appropriate for West Side Story‘s balcony scene, and Hector Guerrero’s by-the-numbers choreography didn’t excite his dancers, but the consummate musical direction and phenomenal singers made this rock/soap opera–Webber’s best work–soar.

photos by Caught in the Moment Photography

Evita
Musical Theatre West
Richard and Karen Carpenter
Performing Arts Center
Cal State Long Beach
ends on November 6, 2016
for tickets, call 562.856.1999
or visit Musical

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