A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
I think there are too many director’s notes for Evita that go on and on about how incredibly mysterious, how very complex she was (notably, Fuzz Roark’s note for this Spotlighter’s show skips the beard scratching and just drops some actual history on us, which is appreciated). Just one big virgin/mother/whore Rorschach, right? But like many, many famous women, I have a feeling that she herself was probably much less complicated than the men who knew her, and the men who immortalized her for an American/British audience, imagined, fantasized, she was. What is more fascinating to me than her inner space, actually, is the outer space she occupied as a hot body politic; she was the screen on which an entire country projected, a projection that, in some ways, continues to this day. But, love her or hate her, you’ve got to admit, María Eva Duarte de Perón, first lady of Argentina from 1946-1952, did not suffer from impostor syndrome. She knew who she was, she knew what she wanted and she didn’t give a shit about what it took to get her there and that, I can get behind.
Roark clearly knows and loves this material, he treats it with warmth and directs it with real power. He clearly feels for Eva Perón, maybe more than other versions I’ve seen, which makes a considerable difference in the outcome, I think. He also respects her, which is crucial in a play where most of the cast screams “Slut!” at her in one way or another. I didn’t dig all of Roark’s choices, there were moments that the action appeared to just…stop (most notably during the last segments “Montage” and “Lament”). There are also some details that are painfully overlooked (during the first moments, there is a projection that is supposed to recall a 1950s movie theater, but there is a bright blue icon from wherever it was ripped from right in the corner of the screen), but ultimately, he has a successful show, here. It’s flying, and he has a feel for the motion of it. I love, for instance, how he keeps finding different ways to elevate Eva: on a balcony, on a platform made from suitcases, on a shoulder – and then keeps dropping her, again and again. Elegant.
Of course, Roark is greatly aided by his leading lady, Becca Vourvolas. Evita, by its very nature, is a star vehicle (always was) and Vourvolas turns. it. in. She’s instantly charismatic, which is half of the battle, and we’re in love with her from the first minute we see her. Though I wasn’t 100% during her first big number, “Buenos Aires”, by the time we get to “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You” Vourvolas is just doing her thing. She has a way of completely engaging in the scene and pulling the audience in, her energy spreads over us like warm honey. If I’m supposed to believe that this woman could seduce millions, well, I do. She’s sexy, and sex is her product, and they buy it and so do we. “A New Argentina” is fucking exciting and the way she plays off the ensemble, and they play off of her, is blood pumping. Of course, she nails “On The Balcony of the Casa Rosada” (even though some awkward set positioning kinda puts baby in a corner, there). She’s got the pathos, the drama, the actor’s flair, human vulnerability and terrifying steel of this woman. “Rainbow High” and “Santa Evita” contrast beautifully, hella layered and really hanging together. A brava performance. Truly.
Eva couldn’t exist without her people, though, and I want to say a few words about the ensemble of this show. Rarely do I see an ensemble that blends as strongly, is as balanced and an absolute joy to hear, as this one. The group numbers, “A New Argentina”, “And The Money Kept Rollin’ In”, “Rainbow Tour” are exceptional. Well fucking done to a group of talented, talented individuals. The stand alones are intense and forceful, too, particularly Claire Iverson as Mistress and Lucia Keleman as Young Eva. Bart Debicki is handsome and presidential as hell as Juan Perón, emotional, and with a killer voice, particularly in the second act’s “You Must Love Me”. He’s just so right for it. I think I know the direction Roark and Rob Wall were going with a more toned down, subtle Che, but it just didn’t work for me. I mean, you’re talking about one of the most famous radical figures of all time, it’s time to fire it up. Though Wall’s voice is pretty sublime, he was controlled when I wanted him to let go. Che’s anger drives us through the plot, in it’s relative absence, the progression makes less sense.
Choreography by Nancy Flores was energetic, even in this tiny space where there isn’t really anywhere to go. There was some surprisingly sophisticated tango action happening and “Waltz for Eva and Che” was just lovely. Musical Direction from Michael Tan was pleasingly balanced and right on the money, especially since the pit was, as always, really squished in there. I was all set to echo Achilles’ bitch the other day about costumes (Andrew Malone, Diana Haberstick, Darcy Elliot) looking too new for the time/class of the characters, but then there was that avocado suit and that white, bias cut silk gown and I started to drool and forgot what I was saying. If there was a design aspect that really didn’t work for me, it was the set (Alan Zemla). While there were some nice touches (the suitcases that transform into platforms come to mind), I found it mostly pretty blah. The color story, the markered-in looking Argentinian flag, the sponge painting, the overwrought balcony. I couldn’t get into it. I think perhaps thinking about not being so very literal might go a long way for this company. For instance: Everyone knows she’s on a balcony, right? I mean, it’s the most famous scene of the play and the song title even references it. So, does she really need to be on a like, literal balcony? Is there another, more clever way to approach that set piece that would actually put your star center stage, as she deserves? Just a thought.
BOTTOM LINE: This Evita, though not absolutely impeccable, is, nevertheless, pretty splendid. Two hours and twenty five minutes fly by as a stellar ensemble and whammingly powerful leading lady sing their hearts out. There’s the tension, well-defined relationships and thoughtful staging that result from good direction, and it’s pretty damned pleasing to look at, too. A win, in my book.
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