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Thursday, 5 August 2010

Evita: It isn’t me, it’s you

Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Weber
Directed by Gary Griffin
Featuring Juan Chioran, Chilina Kennedy, Josie Marasco, Vince Staltari, Josh Young

The Story: In the 1940’s a girl from the sticks makes good by climbing to stardom as a radio actress, film star and finally First Lady of Argentina, becoming beloved of all – a Cinderella story. Except that Eva Duarte is no Cinderella.

For traditional Stratford audiences, Evita might be a bit of a shock. First of all, it is about a villainess with no redeeming qualities whatsoever (at least, that is the way this production depicts her). Secondly, there is no dialogue, only music, and that music is rock music and that music is LOUD. So loud that in some moments audience members have been seen covering their ears. So loud that in these same moments the leads sound like they are screaming to be heard over the music, and that is not fun for the audience, and it cannot be much fun for the actors either.

Why the directors and sound engineers cannot seem to balance the music and vocals is anyone’s guess, but it does the production (and audience) a huge disservice, because this is an extraordinarily talented cast. (And by the way, there are over 110 costumes in Evita, so rounds of applause please for the wardrobe department, and their attendants for some astonishingly swift costume and wig changes.)

Josh Young (right) as Che (Guevara), our narrator cum Greek chorus for the evening. If we ever have a doubt about Eva’s intentions, Che shows us the truth through the eyes of an objective outsider – although just how objective is up for interpretation. Mr. Young oozes charisma as he helps Che through his own transformation into someone as galvanizing as the woman he criticizes, and although he too is overpowered by the musical score when it turns discordant, the effect is not as jarring as it is with the others.

One of the others is Juan Chioran (left), who is an imposing Juan Peron, the Argentine Colonel who rises – with a sufficient push from his ambitious wife – to become El Presidente. The clever use of a poker game shows how he originally came to power, although this production treats Peron as less ambitious, and suggests that the push Eva gives him may be aided by pharmaceuticals. His military underlings are brutal in their condemnation of his new wife (“Peron’s Latest Flame”), although Mr. Chioran allows a real affection for Eva to glimmer from under Peron’s epaulets.

The number “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, seems to be out of place as the only song not involving one of the main leads, and one of the only songs with a straightforward melody – until you realize that it allows the “Mistress” who sings it to be the ‘anti-Evita’, a woman of similar origins to Eva, but who retains a naivety and an innocence that Eva never possessed. Sweetly sung by a bewildered-looking Josie Marasco, it takes one’s breath away in its sharp contrast to the main character.

Chilina Kennedy (above) plays Maria Eva Duarte, later known as Evita, with a glittering steeliness that illustrates all of Eva’s ambition and none of her (supposed) softness. Ms. Kennedy has Eva coming out fighting, and one is kept wondering when we will see some inkling that we should admire her, or feel some sympathy for her struggle; however the character seems to be designed to be thoroughly repellant. This is no fault of Ms. Kennedy, whose stunning pipes are more than equal to the demanding vocal score (she both looks and sounds rapturous through the memorable “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina). She is completely believable even though the character she plays is completely unlikable – in short, although it remains a puzzle why the Argentinean people adored her so, Ms. Kennedy makes Eva someone we love to hate. Even as she realizes she is dying, Eva has the nerve to censure her creator for the state of her health; even in her death Ms. Kennedy’s Evita looks smugly out at the audience as if to say, “See? None of you will ever forget me.”

No, we won’t.

Evita continues in repertory at the Avon Theatre until November 6th.

No hearing assistive devices required.

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