Tuesday, September 11, 2018

EVITA • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

There’s a slip of the tongue from Eva Duarte de Perón in “A New Argentina,” as she tries to ease her husband’s qualms about his presidential bid when she concedes, “We'll ... you'll be handed power on a plate.” In Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s biographical rock opera, the acquisition of power is something Eva Perón made her guiding principle since she was a kid. After chasing a career in stage, radio and film acting, she met Colonel Juan Perón and the two were married a year later.

The cast of Evita.
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
When he became president and Eva transformed into Argentina’s glamorous first lady, she elicited glorification from the working classes who adored her while offending the country-club set and the military who debased her.

Numbers like “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” “Don't Cry for Me Argentina” and “Rainbow High” became wildly popular after Evita first emerged as a concept album in 1976, and was the first British import to receive a Tony Award for Best Musical after its Broadway debut in 1979. The Rep’s season opening production, directed tautly by Rob Ruggiero, tells the story of her rise from backwoods beginnings to Argentina’s designated “Spiritual Leader of the Nation” exuberantly, with top-notch creative design and clearly drawn performances.

Eva Perón (Michelle Aravena).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Michelle Aravena’s triple-threat portrayal of Eva Perón is diversely hued. Curt, calculated and bitterly nursing childhood wounds inflicted by the upper classes, she’s determined to take Buenos Aires by the balls, and an emotive Aravena nimbly occupies the role with grit and confident style. She packs power in a compact frame, and not only handles Lloyd Webber’s grueling score handily (her “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” does not disappoint), but also shows us what Eva was thinking, striking a nice balance between a ruthless ambition and a desire for adoration.

Che (Pepe Nufrio).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Pepe Nufrio is Che, who serves as Eva’s foil and our Greek chorus. He sees through her charm offensives that fueled Juan Perón’s ascent to the presidency, and is astonished by her popularity. Che’s cynical view paints Eva as a phony who slept her way into influential circles, and who, with the help of Perón and his regime’s heavy boots, jailed opposition, silenced free press, and bankrupted the country while lining their own pockets. Nufrio’s resonant tenor charms and thrills, lashing those high notes in "And the Money Kept Rolling In,” and on opening night, he grew in carriage and command as the show progressed.

Juan Perón (Sean MacLaughlin)
and Eva Duarte (Michelle Aravena).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
A magnetic Sean MacLaughlin’s rich baritone and bearing gave his portrayal of Juan Perón the quiet strength of a man who understands political maneuvers like the back of his hand. MacLaughlin and Aravena have major chemistry onstage, and their relationship is artfully expressed as a loving partnership of strong wills. As the Minister of Labor, Colonel Perón won over the unions and descamisados, or “shirtless ones,” by striving to improve conditions for the country’s workers. But his presidential detractors considered him a brutal dictator, and you can sense just a hint of menace under MacLaughlin’s charm.

The cast of Evita.
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
The Rep’s well-oiled ensemble works hard, sounds great, and it’s nice to some see locals in the mix. Devotees of the concept album and cast recording may want a little more heft from the orchestra, but they’re well balanced, strong, and Charlie Alterman’s music direction allows the narrative moments within Lloyd Webber complex, irregular, Latin-flavored score to breathe, while driving others like a freight train. This production also benefits from the inclusion of the Oscar-winning song, “You Must Love Me,” written for the film adaptation. Scenic designer Luke Cantarella’s gilded balcony of the Casa Rosada, sitting in front of a huge, iconic portrait of Evita, dominates the length of the stage, with chairs stacked up on the far ends. The use of projected archival footage is powerful, and Alejo Vietti’s costumes are spot-on across the spectrum, while John Lasiter’s lighting design fills the stage with texture and depth.

Juan Perón (Sean MacLaughlin)
and Eva Perón (Michelle Aravena).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
A political celebrity who captivates a nation, for good or ill, is no doubt timely, but the characters in Evita are revealed as neither purely good nor bad. It’s storytelling on a grand scale, and you should grab a ticket to check it out. It’s at the Loretto-Hilton Center until the 30th.


EVITA

Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Rob Ruggiero
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
through September 30 | tickets: $29 - $102
Performances Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays at 7pm, selected Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm, selected Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm, selected Sundays at 7pm

Augstín Magaldi (Nicolas Dávila).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Cast
Eva Perón: Michelle Aravena*
Che: Pepe Nufrio*
Juan Perón: Sean MacLaughlin*
Augstín Magaldi/Ensemble: Nicolas Dávila*
Perón's Mistress/Ensemble: Shea Gomez

Ensemble
Maria Bilbao*
Nathaniel Burich*
Ben Chavez*
Samuel Druhora*
Carmen Garcia
Esmeralda Garza
Samantha Gershman*
Julie Hanson*
Keith Hines*
Jose Luaces*
Ben Nordstrom*
Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva*
April Strelinger*
Tim Wessel*

Understudies
Ben Chavez* (Che)
Samuel Druhora* (Perón)
Samantha Gershman* (Eva)

Eva Perón (Michelle Aravena).
Photo credit: Eric Woolsey
Creative
Music Director: Charlie Alterman
Choreographer: Gustavo Zajac
Scenic and Projections Designer: Luke Cantarella
Costume Designer: Alejo Vietti
Lighting Designer: John Lasiter
Sound Designer: Matt Kraus
Associate Music Director: Rick Bertone
Tango Consultant: Mariana Parma
Stage Manager: Emilee Buchheit
Assistant Stage Manager: Lorraine LiCavoli
Originally directed by: Harold Prince

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of
Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Musicians
Conductor/Keyboard I: Charlie Alterman
Keyboard II: Rick Bertone
Reeds: Mike Buerk
Cello: Marcia Erwin
Violin: Wendy Lea
Guitar: Steve Schenkel
Horn: Nancy Schick
Percussion: Alan Schilling
Trumpet: Andy Tichenor
Trombone: Tom Vincent
Additional Arrangements: Sinai Tabek

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