Evita (Stratford 2010)

Juan Chioran and Chilina Kennedy
Juan Chioran and Chilina Kennedy

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Gary Griffin
Choreographed by Tracey Flye
Musical direction by Rick Fox
Performed by Chilina Kennedy, Josh Young, Juan Chioran, Jose Marasco, Vince Staltari, et al.
Avon Theatre
Stratford Festival
May 28 to October 30, 2010
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

An Intense Evita

The Stratford Festival’s production of Evita is a very intense rock opera, now playing at that Avon Theatre. This marks the first time the Stratford Festival has produced an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, and they have created a powerful piece, presumably as Lloyd Webber intended.

Evita is the story, completely told in song, of Eva Peron, the popular “spiritual leader” of Argentina. The show opens with a scene of Eva, the movie star, appearing in one of her many melodramatic films. Then we see her casket with the common people of Argentina mourning her death. Political activist Che is the narrator – he describes the outcry at her passing as a circus. Then the action moves back to her early days, as Che narrates the tale.

Born in poverty, Eva Duarte is intent on rising above her illegitimacy and getting out of her small rural village. At age 15, in the early 1930s, she beguiles a lounge singer and pleads with him to take her to the big cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires. Very driven, Evita manipulates her way to the top, sleeping with any man who might be useful to her career as a radio and movie actress.

Eventually, she meets Juan Peron, a colonel who decides to the roll the dice and run in an election. With Eva’s help, he wins and she becomes first lady. She is treated with disdain by the upper class because of her sketchy background, but beloved by the peasants. She travels throughout Europe in an attempt to prove she is elite, but still tries to maintain her bond with the lower class. She starts a charity to give funds to the poor, but rumours that she lives in luxury thanks to the charity persist. She is stricken with cancer and dies at age 33.

Chilina Kennedy plays Evita with a sense of urgency and a lust for power that is palpable. Kennedy’s resemblance to Eva is remarkable – when a large, familiar portrait of Eva descends onto the stage, one wonders if it is indeed the famous painting of the real Eva, or a copy specially painted to resemble Kennedy. Not only does Kennedy demonstrate Eva’s aggressive desire for control, but also gives a solid performance of Eva’s loss of power in her illness leading up to her death.

Kennedy is well-known to Stratford audiences as Maria in last year’s West Side Story. While she has a powerful singing voice, she sounded slightly strained in the some of the early numbers, pushing to achieve the rock sound. In Act II, she handled the signature number Don’t Cry for Me Argentina perfectly.

Josh Young takes us on the journey as Che the narrator, based on Che Guevera, also an Argentinean activist, but politically opposite to the Perons. There is no evidence that Che and Eva ever actually met, but his character makes an excellent storyteller in this musical. Young takes us along with each step, his hair growing longer and his revolutionary ways becoming stronger. Young’s voice is exceptional in songs such as Oh, What a Circus, A New Argentina and High Flying Adored, as he transitions between rock and ballad.

Juan Chioran plays Juan Peron, the part he was meant to play. He is perfectly suited for the role, having an Argentinean background himself, with a well-suited singing voice. Vince Staltari also has an amazing voice as Magaldi the lounge singer, and Josie Marasco is exceptional in her song as the mistress.

Also included is an amazing chorus of singers/dancers. They made many costume changes and appear to fill the stage with different people as the scenes change.

It is an evening of excellent entertainment for those who enjoy superior acting, singing and dancing. It is also an interesting glimpse of an historical character who impacted life in Argentina. It provides a great basis for discussion – was Eva Peron an evil opportunist thinking only of herself, or did she serve the common folk whom she professed to love?

Evita continues at the Avon Theatre, Stratford until October 30. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check www.stratfordshakespearefestival.ca.

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