The biographical musical of an Argentine president’s wife, “Evita” provided an array of emotions: from humor, to wonder, to heartbreak.
These last couple of years have seen the deaths of some of the most beloved celebrities, and with Oprah recently becoming a tentative candidate for president, the story of Eva Perón makes more sense now than ever before. Tulsa Theater starts 2018 with “Evita,” a musical exploring the life of Eva Perón.
Many know little of Eva, affectionately called “Evita,” and her skyrocket from the lower class to power. Those who do probably learned from this beloved 1978 musical that raked in seven Tony Awards. Essentially, a low-born girl becomes an actress who meets with Juan Perón before he is elected president. After the two married in 1945, Evita used her popularity with the common people to gain political influence. This lead to her successful campaign for her husband’s presidency in 1946. She achieved world fame from a European tour and even ran for Vice President despite having limited political experience. She died at the age of 33, six years into her reign as first lady. The nation mourned.
The musical itself was fantastic. I do not rank it as my favorite, but it surely deserved its awards. The choreography dazzled me the most. I could not believe the athletic endurance of the actors. The chorus and lead roles occasionally shared the show with two dancers, one male and one female, whose acrobatics and grace quickly became my favorite part of the show. The musical to their dance numbers kept a steady beat and dramatic melody as the lady seemed to defy gravity. It was nothing short of mesmerizing.
The plot confused me at times. This was partially due to minor issues with hearing the singers over the music coming from the pit. It only happened occasionally, but I missed a handful of lines simply because I couldn’t hear. Since the musical tells the story of a real person, it was challenged with informing the audience of Argentine history as well as telling the story of Eva Perón. It did this surprisingly well, but it also meant that I had to pay close attention to hear all the lines of the musical to get both the plot and the history.
“Evita” impressed me with its ability to tell its own story; the writing was brilliant. Evita met with heavy resistance from the bourgeoisie and the military because she was a poor civilian, and an actress at that. The musical portrayed this with an over-the-top performance of fur-coat-clad women striking their most ostentatious poses and a company of marching soldiers who insulted Evita as they drilled. The women were a hilarious caricature of upper class citizens, and one of the soldiers showed off some impressing rifle-spinning techniques. I could not have imagined a more fun way to convey the demographics of people who hated Evita. It resonates with her past as well. Evita sings in the beginning of the production that her father was upper middle class, but since she was an illegitimate child, she received no benefit from her father’s money and thus had nothing. This explains why she hated the upper-middle class as much as they hated her.
The music left me wanting more. “Don’t Cry for me Argentina” stands as one of the most beloved numbers in musical history, and I became a fan myself. As she addresses the crowd, the audience almost feels like they on stage themselves, overjoyed to hear their first lady sing. The musical ends with Evita on her deathbed, singing one last time. The audience received little electric candles to hold up as a part of a candle-lit vigil. It made for a strong ending.
The actors did a solid job, although I did not find any standouts this trip. Karlena Riggs made a great Evita, and Sean Patrick Rooney played an excellent Che Guevara. I enjoyed John Orsulak playing Juan Perón. Last, Jeffery McCollum played Magaldi, and Claire Schroepfer his mistress.
I recommend this show to anyone with a heart. As the audience holds a vigil for the beloved political activist and feminist figure, they also are reminded that above all, she was an actress. While it may rub some the wrong way that it celebrates the ideas of non-political celebrities achieving federal political power, it also calls back to the deaths of many wonderful celebrities. I swear I almost heard Carrie Fisher’s voice somewhere in there. “Evita” will be performing again at the Tulsa PAC Thurs 18–Sat 20 at 8 p.m., and finally on Sunday the 21 at 2 p.m.