1950's Argentinian political tale is relevant today in Studio Tenn's EVITA
Let’s start with the essential. Studio Tenn’s production of Evita is excellent. It is fun, extremely entertaining and tells a story about politics that feels as relevant to today’s world as to 1950s Argentina.
The musical, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and with lyrics by Tim Rice, brings to life a soul-searching Argentina that is plagued by a number of evils. Corruption, income inequality, a dominant aristocracy and growing spirit of nationalism create serious tensions among the Argentinean people, who are trying to secure a better future for themselves and a place on the world stage.
Enter Eva Perón, the actress-turned-politician who would become the face of the country in the years following World War II.
The musical Evita (Spanish for “little Eva”) tells the story of Eva Duarte’s rise to prominence, from her arrival in Buenos Aires as a poor teenager to her political ascension alongside her husband Juan Perón, who would become president. As the story progresses, we come to understand that Eva has many conflicting motivations, among them her ruthless drive to make it to the top and her need to feel loved by all. And this complicated inner-world of Eva Perón is exactly what the musical invites us to explore. Through everything, Evita challenges us to look beyond Eva’s painted portrait and to examine instead the effects of her unstoppable ambition on her mind and body, as well as on Argentinian politics.
Eden Espinosa (Broadway: Elphaba, Wicked), who plays Eva, does an excellent job communicating this inner struggle and nicely balances Eva’s seemingly insatiable thirst for power with the increasing frailty of her own body. Juan Perón, played by Anthony Crivello, who performed as Che in the Broadway production of Evita, is her cooler, less charming counterpart in the apparent marriage of convenience. The conspiracy is completely believable throughout, and one of the most memorable parts of the show comes during the solidification of their agreement in “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You.” The tightly choreographed tango accompanying it is spot on, and as in many places, the beautiful movements of the ensemble almost threaten to outshine center stage.
But Perón is not Eva’s only marriage of convenience. Eva also attaches herself to the aspirations of the ordinary Argentinian people: They see in her the possibility of moving up in society, and she gets from them the love and devotion she requires. But this relationship is complicated and at times capricious, as her interactions with the character Che, played by Ben Crawford (Broadway: Shrek, Shrek the Musical), demonstrate. Che embodies the oddly prescient and revolutionary spirit of the country. Only he is consistently able to see her power-hungry motivations. Peeling back the government’s flimsy façade of “social justice and economic independence,” Che uncovers the sketchy, self-interested motives of the political regime.
At this point, Ben Crawford completely steals the show. “And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)” showcases both his astounding vocal range and his lovely, clear baritone. Among many excellent musical performances in the show (and there are many), this is undoubtedly the high point.
Many other elements of Evita deserve to be named. For one thing, the costume design is excellent. The mix of festive dresses and black funeral garb, as well as the grey clothes worn by the masses, adds an extra layer of depth to the performance. And the stark contrast between Eva’s high fashion and the plain garments of the everyday Argentinians tells the saga of political corruption and sustained economic inequality as clearly as any of the dialogue. Likewise, the multi-level set accentuates the economic disparities, often placing Eva and Perón well above the struggles of ordinary people.
In the end, however, it is more than just Andrew Lloyd Webber’s flashy rock-‘n’-roll musical numbers, the elaborate set design and virtuoso vocal performances that make this show remarkable. It is even more the way in which Evita emphasizes the humanness of ambition and the frailty that accompanies it. Although Eva’s ruthless ambition and lust for admiration take her far, she ultimately discovers the one thing she has in common with everyone who aspires to something—her mortality.
Studio Tenn and TPAC’s production of Evita runs September 9th to September 18th in TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall. Tickets available at tpac.org