I would expect anyone over the age of 50 knows the story of Eva Perón, charismatic young wife of Argentinian president/dictator, Juan Perón, who died at age 33 but lives on in legend. I also expect most people over the age of whatever have probably seen the musical based on her life, Evita.
Whether you have or have not, you should see Evita currently playing at Riverside Theatre. Musicals are often based on real life stories, but this is a musical based on a record album that is based on a real life story. Evita is music and lyrics from beginning to end, yet tells the complete story of Perón’s life without a word of dialogue. Let’s call it an organic musical – all “music by” Andrew Lloyd Webber and “lyrics by” Tim Rice, but no “Book by ______.”
The idea of an album musical is not new; Jesus Christ Superstar comes to mind (also by Webber and Rice), so does The Who’s Tommy and even You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Of course, few lyricists can actually tell an entire life story within the confines of 12 notes on a musical staff. And to say Andrew Lloyd Webber’s brilliant songwriting is confined in any way by musical notation would be considered blasphemy.
So, on with the show! It begins in 1934 with a café scene in impoverished rural Argentina. Here we meet 15-year old Eva Duarte dreaming of a brighter future. Her story is ‘narrated’ by a skeptical local, Ché, who shadows Eva on her way to the future she hopes awaits her in Buenos Aires. She gets there and struggles at first, but sleeps her way up the social ladder to become a hugely popular actress and model, especially with her fellow countrymen who are still impoverished.
Eva meets an up-and-coming political star, Juan Domingo Perón, and they fall in love at first sight. He rises to the county’s presidency because she loves him and the people love her. Eva ends up with the life she always hoped for, but Ché is present to question her true motives. She becomes an international sensation, but then her life is cut short by ovarian cancer and she dies in 1952 at age 33.
In most musicals, this is where you might expect a rousing final curtain number, but instead, we see the same somber café scene in rural Argentina that opened the show. But now it is in 1952. That really stayed with me, I think because life did not change for anyone except Eva Duarte and it could not have been expressed any better in polished dialogue.
Natalie Cortez as Eva was the star of the show, inhabiting the glowing optimism of her impoverished youth to the unrestrained ambition once she had exceeded her expectations. Then one can feel the life drain out of her in the end. And it was her remarkable singing that communicated all those emotions to the audience.
Angel Lozada as Ché proved he was the only grounded character in this tale even though his left-leaning skepticism could have easily pegged him as a future Ché Guevera.
Enrique Acevedo performed well as Juan Perón, with a voice that commanded the necessary authority to convince everyone he was the guy in charge.
The Tony Award-nominated director and choreographer, Marcia Milgrom, showed why she is one of Broadway’s best in her return to Riverside. The cast of more than 30 dancers and singers filled the stage with skill, precision and professionalism, even the littlest performers (yes, there were kids in the show).
Evita performs through January 27 on the Stark Stage at Riverside Theatre. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased by calling the Box Office at 772-231-6990 or online at www.riversidetheatre.com.