SCRT’s "Evita" tells compelling story of Argentina’s first lady
(Juan and Eva Peron as portrayed by Danny LeMache and Jacquie Jo Billings)
Cynthia Berresse Ploski Art Correspondent The Chronicle-News
(originally published in the 7/13/18 edition of The Chronicle-News) Eva Peron’s ambition was her downfall. Just as once in its lifetime a salmon successfully swims against the current upstream to spawn, Evita’s hard won lifetime journey to fame and political power was a success. She captured the fanatical adulation of the Argentine people, running for vice president of Argentina at the side of her Presidential spouse, Juan Peron, in 1951; but was forced to withdraw due to illness. And like the salmon, which at the culmination of its life journey to reproduce grows weak and dies, the body of Argentina’s first lady succumbed to the ravages of cancer, causing her death the following year on July 26, 1952, at the age of 33. It is at the announcement of her death, which caused worldwide attention (and anyone over 70 years of age can probably remember) that Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s musical “Evita” begins on stage. This musical started life as a rock opera concert album in 1976 and grew to win the Broadway Tony for “Best Musical” in 1979. Treading the thin line between Musical and Opera, it reached Trinidad’s SCRT Stagethis year, opening Last Friday evening in a hauntingly beautiful production directed and choreographed by James F. Bruenger III. Evita is a biography in song of Eva Peron’s life and death, rather than a usual storyline tale. Famous melodies, reprised in recognizable phrases throughout the show, reward the audience. Such songs ringing through the rafters as “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” produce a frisson of delight as warmly familiar as recognizing an old friend on the street. In his production, Director Bruenger has changed the traditional setting of a movie theatre to a seedy tango bar in Buenos Aires. Scenic Designer Owen Nuss has created a masterpiece of environmental atmosphere, bathed in atmospheric light by G. Austin Allen, in which the entire company of actors – in costume and in character – go about meeting, greeting, chatting and occasionally dancing while the audience enters and socializes. A brief dimming of the house lights alerts people to take their seats, but it is only when the light operator creates a brief blackout that we know the musical has started, without interruption of onstage action. A radio announces Eva Peron’s death shocks the patrons, and introduces Che (Raul Andres Ramirez) who becomes the narrator/outside observer throughout the piece, commenting on the various times in Evita’s life. We see Evita (Jacquie Jo Billings) first as a 15 year old with a burning passion to be somebody important. In that tango bar she meets a tango singer Magaldi (Zachery Reeve Davidson) and persuades him to take her with him to the big city of Buenos Aires. The musical follows Evita’s life as she becomes an actress and radio personality, having affairs with men who can assist her climb to fame. At a concert she meets the man who can help her the most, Juan Peron (Danny LeMache,) a rising colonel in the army with political ambitions. She replaces Peron’s mistress (Daniela Kaplun), moves in with Peron and marries him in 1945. The duo become active in creating what they hail as a “New Argentina,” giving the right to vote to women, increasing benefits to the people and earning disdain from privileged upper classes. The second act portrays Evita as a glamorous woman on a balcony singing the famous “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” to assure the populace that she cares more about them than anything in her life. It follows her goodwill tours around the world in a costume parade of beautiful outfits, covering her charity work, her illness and death. The actors’ beautiful voices and outstanding performances, the mood enhancing lighting, the illusion of crowds created by quick changes of the ensemble, the dancing choreography reflecting the mood of the songs like a mobile Greek Chorus, all combine to make this a beautiful, entertaining, thought provoking and educational Broadway caliber SCRT musical. Evita will continue to be shown six more times throughout the summer season. Mark your calendars for 7:30pm evening performances on July 14, 27; August 4 and 17 with 2:30pm matinees that will be presented on Sundays, July 15 and August 12. This is a compelling, magical, retelling of the story of the first politically successful woman since Cleopatra, in an era when women were kept from taking their power. As such, it is particularly relevant to the world today. Congratulations to all who contributed to its production! For further information or to purchase tickets call the Box Office 719-846-4765, stop by the SCRT Box Office at 131 W Main St, or go online at scrtheatre.com to see more about the actors and creators.