Evita – Celebrity, Media and Power
By Bob & Karen Isaacs
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice hit on a perfect subject (power and celebrity) when they wrote the musical Evita now on the stage at Ivoryton Playhouse.
It’s an ambitious project for Ivoryton which has a small stage and a small budget. But they acquit themselves very well. They are blessed with some strong performers in the lead roles. Christine Marie Heath has played the title role a number of times, including in German. She is joined by Robert Felbinger as Che, Al Bundonis as Peron, Kathleen Mulready as the mistress and Alfonso Chavez as Magaldi. Each carries off not only the vocal requirements – and this is not any easy score to sing—but also the characters well. Our only quibble might be that Felbinger as Che is a little gentler than the role seems to require; he should be the cynic, the outsider who sees the manipulation.
The principals are joined by an ensemble including many community performers. If they aren’t up to the level of the leads, they do a good job performing a multitude of roles – from aristocrats to the poor – and carry off the stylized choreographed movements well.
Credit must be given to director and choreographer Leslie Unger, musical director John Sebastian DeNicola and the entire production team. Given the small Ivoryton stage, set designer Michael Meister does a fine job creating two balconies and a flexible playing space that uses minimal props for a variety of scenes. Certainly light designer Doug Harry, costumer designer Vivianna Lamb, and wig and hair designer Joel Silvestro all do a terrific job.
The problem with this production is Evita itself.
When it opened in New York in 1978 after a successful run in London, it got decidedly mixed reviews. But it won a number of awards, ran for over 1,500 performances on Broadway, toured the country in many versions, was made into a successful movie starring Madonna, and has had thousands of productions since.
Evita is the morality tale of Eva Duarte, a lower class young woman in 1935 Argentina who uses her ruthlessness and her looks to become a radio commentator, an actress, a celebrity and then the beloved-by-the-masses first lady of Argentina when her husband, the General Juan Peron becomes the dictator, before her untimely and deeply mourned death at the age of 33.
Webber and Rice told Evita, as she was known by the masses who loved her, with the help of an unusual and absolutely historically inaccurate narrator—Che Guevera, the revolutionary.
The problems? Webber and Rice use two or three melodies in the entire sing-through piece. You keep hearing the same tunes over and over but with different lyrics. Another problem is that Webber and Rice are trying to comment on the mixing of celebrity, media and political power – something that is all too familiar throughout the world. But they can’t decide what their view is on these topics, so they try to have it all ways. They seem to deify Evita while also calling attention to her manipulation; Che can see it all but at times appears to be much too amused rather than outraged by it. So what you end up with is a musical about a manipulative, conniving woman who helped herself to the government treasury while proclaiming her love for and her ambition to help the poor and downtrodden. So she died young. Who cares?
Evita is at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, through Aug. 31. For tickets and information call 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
This review appeared in Shore Publications.