San Diego Theater Review: EVITA (San Diego Rep)

by Milo Shapiro on August 9, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

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DON’T CRY, BUT SEE ARGENTINA

The crime of being a legend is to be simultaneously loved and hated, while the truth will always be a matter of perspective and interpretation. Eva Duarte, later Eva Perón, was just such a figure. Both adored and reviled, the life of the grandiose first lady of 1940s’ Argentina makes for fascinating theater. Throw in lyrics by Tim Rice and music from some guy named Andrew Lloyd Webber and you’ve got a classic rock-opera on your hands.

Evita begins with 15-year-old Eva seizing an opportunity out of poverty in rural Argentina by latching onto Agustin Magaldin, a celebrity singer. Magaldin appears not to have been nearly so eager, but succumbs to pressure to bring her to Buenos Aires. Fear not, dear Agustin, for you are only one of many she will use along the way so you will not be trapped for long.Eventually, we watch her rise alongside an up-and-coming general, Juan Perón, regardless of whom she crushes along the way.

In the film version of Evita, Madonna shows us an ambitious yet vulnerable and, ultimately, somewhat likeable Eva. By contrast, Sam Woodhouse has directed Marisa Matthews to play her as ruthless and vengeful. Herein lies the risk. Matthews portrays Eva’s selfishness with relish, yielding almost monstrous faces at times and cutting tones of voice. While her gusto is delicious, it also leaves us with no protagonist; it is hard to celebrate Eva’s successes, yet her failures cause the suffering of too many for us to enjoy them.

The narrator, played by Jeffrey Rica, is known as Che, although he is never named in the show nor spoken to directly by anyone; he takes us through her life, filling in details that would make this show far too long otherwise.

Musically, the show is quite good and certainly enjoyable; just not remarkably so. Dance work is entertaining, but with the potential for big Argentine Tango numbers, the stage is somewhat limited by the Lyceum’s moderate-sized space. Stand-outs vocally are Jason Maddy as Juan Perón, with great control and a lovely pure sound, and Mikaela Celeste as Perón’s final mistress before Eva arrives, kicked to the curb with a touching ballad. Matthews is good in the title role, rising to the occasion in the ultimate moment, “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.” A clever rotation of the stage to show us behind-the-scenes in that moment reveals again, in this interpretation, just how phony even that glowing moment was.

In the end, the Rep’s offering is a pleasurable theater experience which  tells a great story, if not being truly a tour-de-force production.

Evita
San Diego Repertory Theatre
Lyceum Stage
ends on Aug 27, 2017
for tickets, call 619.544.1000 or visit SD Rep

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