There are times in musical theater where a show is so powerful and profound, it remains in your psyche long after the curtain closes. That show was The Gateway’s “Evita,” which debuted this week, kicking off its new season.
This rock opera, which began in London’s West End in 1978 as an Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice creation, hasn’t lost its luster and shines even brighter in this production. What has emerged is a sassy, ambitious, and luminous Evita, played by Amanda Rivera Torres; a proud and at times caring Juan Perón, played with brio by Ryan K. Bailer; and a mocking man of the people, revolutionary Che, played brilliantly by Pablo Torres, who narrates, sings, and dances throughout. And oh, the ensemble and dancers who envelope the story with their hearts and souls helping to raise the bar.
The show is a bit of a history lesson: Eva Peron was Argentina’s first lady in the 1940s and died of cancer in 1952 at age 33. But her cache and mystery remain. She did good establishing a foundation for the poor, but her intent was questioned. She helped her husband, but his administration was known for subverting criticisms. And so, the tug and pull of their lives and the ambivalence is presented here, including actual black-and-white footage of those times, beginning with Eva’s funeral and the Argentines’ reactions as news of her death cuts into a cinema. Then, her life story begins; here’s dark-haired Eva starting as a beautiful, calculating young woman who refuses to remain in the poverty of her origins, seducing a club singer, Magaldi, played by Matthew Malecki Martinez, who has a fine voice.
Each scene tells stories within the story. The “Buenos Aires” production number is a hot musical masterpiece, as Eva moves there and starts her ascension becoming an actress, with Che mocking the military and Eva being laughed at by the upper crust. In “Good Night and Thank You,” you see her lovers coming out of her doorway rather stunned. In a land where men are macho masters, “she’s someone who’s altered the rules.”
Rivera Torres as Eva, now a glamorous blonde circa 1944, plays her character focused on the end result—that is, becoming President Juan Perón’s mate, and the song “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You,” is a great seduction scene with tango dancers Michelle Alves and Carlos A. Jimenez beautifully emulating the lovers. Amanda Rose Gross portrays Perón’s mistress before she’s confronted by Eva, then Juan, in his bedroom, and is cruelly discarded. Her vulnerable rendition of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” is heartbreaking.
“A New Argentina” is a rouser; as Eva now campaigns for her husband, the unions join in support and their public raises placards claiming, “Shorter hours, bigger wages,” marching with flaming torches. It is amazing.
Perhaps the true Eva Perón emerges as the famous “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” is sung. Rivera Torres’s rendition is tender, heartfelt, and soaring, chronicling her journey, love for her people, and intent to do good. Imbued by glamour, wearing the Dior-inspired white strapless ballgown, she’s truly overcome as they reach out to her.
There’s a lot to take in with this compelling show, with 26 songs moving the story along. Bravo to the terrific orchestra led by music director Andrew Haile Austin, who keeps up the fast pace. The cast number 31, most of whom are Latino, which is what the director Keith Andrews and associate director/choreographer Andre’s Acosta wanted. Perhaps its authenticity and passion are reasons why this musical will stay with you.
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