Evita, Shakespeare Theatre Company

History plays take all sorts of forms. Marlowe had his Edward II, Shakespeare had six Henrys and another two Richards for good measure. Shakespeare also dabbled in the mythic history of Britain with Macbeth, King Lear, and even Cymbeline, and on the more recent front, Mike Bartlett's King Charles III was a sometimes prescient look ahead at the next King of England from back in 2017 at the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Shereen Pimentel in EVITA at Shakespeare Theatre Company (DJ Corey Photography)

So why not add the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical Evita into the mix? It tracks the life of its titular star from hungry teen to glamorous and quasi-sainted first lady of Argentina until her early death. Instead of soliloquies we have solos, and in this production at the Shakespeare Theatre Center, we have choreography from Emily Maltby and Valeria Solomonoff to give audiences the poetry. People love a story taken from real life, whether it's ripped from the headlines and turned into an episode of Law & Order or the latest biopic where a beautifully symmetrical actor dons prosthetics and goes for their Oscar. Evita really does fit right in; structurally it's unbalanced and even director Sammi Cannold's sharp eye for the misogyny embedded in the text can't take the sexist implications away, but that's hardly unfamiliar within the genre. Real life can often seem to move in tropes and be unbelievably on-the-nose from time to time, and glossing over details with catchy songs is as tried and true a method as any we've produced for the theatre.

This production comes most recently from a run at the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard; curiously enough, there is almost no information about the creation of this production in the printed materials provided by STC, despite some references to earlier stagings by Cannold dating back to 2019 in the Special Thanks section of the playbill. Some of those earlier productions seem to have contained some bolder choices: casting multiple actresses to play Eva as she grows from adolescence to adulthood, and more staging choices outside the text to emphasize themes and connections. Some of these remain; Cannold has taken the role of Che (Omar Lopez-Cepero) and presented him as an Argentinian everyman, presenting him in parallel with a young cadet (Eddie Gutierrez) version of himself, creating a far more specific character arc than audiences are likely used to seeing in the role.

Before we ever have a chance to see Shereen Pimentel as Eva herself, however, we are greeted by her iconography in the form of Alejo Vietti's dazzling white ballgown for Evita, suspended over the stage from the moment the house opens, empty and shining, captured within scenic designer Jason Sherwood's proscenium.

Omar Lopez-Cepero in EVITA at Shakespeare Theatre Company (DJ Corey Photography)

Pimental's Eva has the fire, determination, and poise in plenty for the role; it's a pity that there isn't more opportunity for her to show more vulnerability in the role before the very end, but that's mostly the sin of the book and not a mark against her performance. 

By and large, though, it's the staging that is the most memorable component of the evening, as soon as the eye clocks that dress in lighting designer Bradley King's angelic glow onstage. It's the round brim of Eva's hat as she is surrounded by adoring masses that provides her with a perfectly natural, completely artificial halo. It's the moment when the grand, terraced flowers pull back after a gorgeously sung "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" and reveal the descamisados of the chorus, the bodies of the poor crushed underneath the grandeur. It's the moment right at the end when the audience realizes that the frame of the proscenium is the tool of the person telling the story, and whoever steps outside the story gets to tell it the way they choose.

And it's also the woman who sat behind me, committing the unforgivable and totally understandable sin of tapping her leg to the rhythm of "A New Argentina" as it pulses relentlessly onward. And it's the comment of the man next to me, who turned to his wife at intermission and asked, "Aren't you loving every single minute of it?"

My mother brought home the double cassette version of the original Broadway cast album when I was too young to understand the intricacies of exactly how Eva got herself to Buenos Aires to sing that catchy song. I danced around the living room to it anyway, and when the movie came out in 1996, my mother checked my sister and I out of school on opening day so we could go to the matinee. I cannot forgive leg tapping in a public theatre, but when faced with the sheer power of musical theatre, I can certainly understand it. I'm biased, after all; you put a production of Evita onstage, and deep down, I'm always happy. Cannold's production may not solve all the problems baked into the show, and I don't always love all the choices, but that doesn't really matter in the end as long as my heart is tapping along with the woman in the back row.


Popular Posts