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WHO TO CRY FOR? KC Rep ‘scales down’ Broadway hit, to considerable effect

By Paul Horsley

A fresh take on a familiar Broadway musical can be invigorating, but such an endeavor has its perils. The Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s “reimagined” version of Evita, which opened September 16th, is a scaled-down production that allows the viewer to focus on the songs, the text and the personal drama of the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber collaboration, which was originally conceived as a rock “concept album” and later staged: in 1978 in London and in 1979 in New York. Instead of large crowds, elaborate stagecraft and big dance numbers, director Eric Rosen’s production limits itself to just 14 players, and its strength lies in some fine performances by the leads. Scenic designer Jack Magaw’s set design, with its schematic arches and balconies, functions as a sort of rorschach of a nightclub, a palace, a street scene, and perhaps a churchyard. (It includes a gigantic “palace balcony” that rolls imperiously downstage when needed, then rolls back up to form part of the anonymous palace wall.) And instead of hordes of workers (who wouldn’t have fit onto the Spencer Theatre stage anyway) we get Jason H. Thompson’s effective projections of documentary footage: thousands of Argentines crowding the streets of Buenos Aires in support of Evita.

All photos by Cory Weaver / Courtesy of KC Rep
All photos by Cory Weaver / Courtesy of KC Rep

Mariand Torres’ bold, extroverted stage presence inspires you to reflect on Eva Perón, because one can well imagine this is the same impact that the real woman had on those around her. She sang beautifully when she played close to the hand—in the intimate moments such as the “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” of Act II. She was a tad obstreperous in the belt-it-out moments of Act I, which made her feel more like a star singer (perhaps appropriately, considering Evita’s beginnings) than a head of state. But then, that was the nature of Eva Perón, who worked hard to convince people she was indeed more than an actress. (Jenny Ashman stepped into the role halfway through the run, and will sing it through the final performances.)

Tim Scott was gregarious and wittily pompous in the role of Augustín Magaldí, the nightclub singer Eva supposedly followed to Buenos Aires. Freshly arrived in the capital city, Eva Duarte has multiple affairs before settling on the ambitious Juan Perón, not yet President but well on his way. Nick Duckart as Juan sang well and acted the charmer, though he doesn’t fully convey the charisma that this dynamic leader must surely have had: His chemistry with Eva was overshadowed by ugly scenes of the lovers they had to dump to be together. (Emily Shackelford was delightful as Perón’s discarded mistress, in her one little farewell aria “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” which she sang with clarity and a sort of droll wit.)

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The company sang and danced ably, with low-key, naturalistic choreography by Darrell Grand Moultrie, and the young actors were notably accomplished as well (“Faby” and Mia Cabrera, Julia R. Masterson, Robin Eli Robles). Lindsay W. Davis’ gorgeous costumes were convincingly “period,” starting with quasi-drab nightclub garb and building to First Lady Eva’s lavishly magnificent white gown of Act II. Anthony T. Edwards and a small ensemble provided a brisk musical foundation throughout.

But what made the show click for me was Mauricio Martínez in the quasi-symbolic role of Che Guevara. Some actors play Che with such rancor and bitter sarcasm that we begin to wonder whether Evita is an admirable person at all. Mauricio, who is a magnificent actor and quite accomplished singer, somehow manages to convey Che’s underlying affection for Eva, despite his critique: As a sort of one-man peanut gallery, Rice’s Che represents all the Perón critics who didn’t always approve of Eva’s calculating methods but found themselves loving her with inexplicable fervor anyway. (His raucous “And the Money Kept Rolling In” was not just a highlight of Act II but of the entire evening.) Mauricio made me think of Judas, who emerged as a bizarre sort of anti-hero in Jesus Christ Superstar—after whom Evita’s Che is plainly modeled. Even the language of Judas’ opening song in Superstar finds echo in Che’s opening “Oh What a Circus”:

Judas: “If you strip away the myth from the man, you will see where we all soon will be … I remember when this whole thing began, no talk of God then, we called you a man. … Your followers are blind, too much heaven on their minds.”

Che: “As soon as the smoke from the funeral clears, we’re all gonna see and how, she did nothing for years. … You were supposed to have been immortal; that’s all they wanted, not much to ask for; but in the end you could not deliver.”

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Yes, the messages are reversed: Judas criticizes Jesus for being God, and Che chides Eva for not being God. But the common thread is affection: Judas loves Jesus so much that he wants to save him from harm, and as controversial as this remains for people of faith, it gave Superstar its uniqueness. In similar fashion Evita revolves around her response to “Che,” and though some of his criticisms may seem unfair today (or even historically inaccurate), they reflect the equivocal legacy that this most remarkable woman left behind.

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Evita runs through October 2nd at Spencer Theatre on the UMKC campus. For tickets call 816-235-2700 or go to kcrep.org.

To reach Paul Horsley, performing arts editor, send an email to paul@kcindependent.com or find him on Facebook (paul.horsley.501) or Twitter (@phorsleycritic).

 

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