TR Robertson … San Diego Rep’s 42nd season got off to a tremendous start with the production of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s critically acclaimed musical “Evita”. This musical was presented in partnership with The San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts. The SD Rep production of “Evita” is directed by SD Rep co-founder Sam Woodhouse, director, producer and actor in more than 280 productions.
The story of “Evita” centers on the early life, rise to power, marriage, charity work and death of Eva Peron, 2nd wife of the former President of Argentina, Juan Peron. Eva Peron, whose name was originally Eva Maria Ibarguren, last name belonging to her mother, mistress to Juan Durate, grew up in Junin, Argentina. According to the civil registry, her name was recorded as Maria Eva Duarte. In 1934, at age 15, she leaves Junin, Argentina, for Buenos Aires, with her mother, to try and get a job in radio or movies. In 1944, she meets Coronel Juan Peron at a fundraiser for earthquake victims. In Peron, Eva sees an opportunity to advance herself in society, gain access to what she has always been excluded from and establish some of the goals and projects she feels will help her achieve social and political reform. Peron will rise to power by 1946. There is no question she and Juan did institute a number of social changes in Argentina and Eva took part in the famous 1947 Rainbow Tour of Europe, which was seen as an attempt to expand Argentina’s position in the world. But, sadly, by the end of Peron’s first rule in Argentina, he had bankrupted the country. Parts of the Webber/Rice musical are a bit historically inaccurate and simply interpretations by Webber and Rice, and some parts of Peron and Eva’s life are left out. For example, Juan Peron was actually arrested for a short period of time when he knew Eva and her encounter with the Argentinian singer, Agustin Magaldi, who supposedly took her to Buenos Aires, did not occur as well as the various encounters Eva and Juan have with Che Guevara did not happen; but they are wonderful parts of the musical.
Photos by Daren Scott
“Evita” began as a rock opera album in 1976. The success of the album would lead Webber and Rice to producing the musical and performing in London’s West End in 1978. They would win the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical. “Evita” opened on Broadway in 1979 and would win Tony Awards for Best Musical, Direction, Lighting, Best Book adaptation, Best Original Score, a total of 7 Tony’s were awarded. Interestingly, Webber had rejected the idea of writing the musical, instead working on a project called “Jeeves”. Rice had become intrigued by a radio station story on Juan Peron and he would actually travel to Argentina for more research, even naming his 1st daughter Eva. When the “Jeeves” project failed, Webber contacted Rice to begin work on the “Evita” musical, and the rest is musical history.
The San Diego Rep presentation of “Evita” is an outstanding version of this classic award winning musical. A talented cast with outstanding leads, a wonderful ensemble, a unique set and the great musical sound of a 16 piece orchestra will give audience members a reason to stand-up and cheer at the end. Eva Peron is played by Marisa Matthews, who brings a tremendous stage presence, dance skills and powerful voice to the role of Eva. Marisa is a graduate of The American Conservatory Theatre. Her range allows her to present “Buenos Aires” with bouncy enthusiasm, “I’d be Surprisingly Good for You” with a sultry appeal, “A New Argentina” with drive and compassion, “High Flying Adored” as a haunting ballad, and “Eva’s Final Broadcast” with great emotion.
Complementing Matthews are the two other leads, Jason Maddy as Juan Peron and Jeff Rica as Che Guevara. Rica, as Che, roams the multi-leveled set, and presents Che in a variety of ways – moody, angry, funny, remorseful, & sad – also with a very powerful voice. Che acts as our narrator, leading us through the story of the rise, fall and death of “The First Lady of Argentina”. Appearing at SD Rep for the first time, Ricca has performed in numerous productions and even directed and conducted the Inland Empire premiere of Webber’s “School of Rock”. From “Oh What a Circus” to “Dice Are Rolling”, Ricca presents Che as the ever present conscience of Argentina, hovering around the main characters and trying to keep them in line or at least trying to explain who they are. Playing Eva’s husband, Juan Peron, is Jason Maddy. Jason has been in numerous regional productions and is currently the head of the Theatre program at Valhalla High School. Maddy presents Peron as a man who wavers between wanting power and wanting to retire to the quiet life of a rocking chair. The memorable first meeting of Peron is to the classic “The Art of the Possible”. Webber and Rice have chosen to present Peron as a man manipulated by Eva to seek power and prestige and as a tender and loving husband. The real Peron was a bit more ruthless, but for the musical this presentation works.
Several other stand-out performances will delight audiences. Victor Chan’s performance as Latin heartthrob Magaldi and his “On This Night of a Thousand Stars” solo, intended to send chills down ladies spines and the haunting ballad, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” sung by Mikaela Celeste as Peron’s mistress, will have audience members talking. Hanz Enyeart and Michelle Camaya Julian perform a very sensual tango routine in Act I, at the charity concert.
A multi-leveled set of an Argentinian town under repair surrounded by scaffolding was put together by Sean Fanning. Large Spanish arches and columns allow for cast members to exit and enter through a variety of places. Lighting designs by David Lee Cuthbert add to the various moods on stage, costumes designed to create the period of the time were by Jennifer Brawn Gittings and Orchestra Conductor was Lisa LeMay. Gittings various outfits for Eva are based on numerous historical photos available of Eva showing the various stylish outfits she was known for.
The SD Rep production of “Evita” is a wonderful presentation of this classic Webber/Rice musical. The musical will run until August 27th. Tickets are available at 619-544-1000 or go to www.sdrep.org.