An Evita That Will Sort of Make You Cry?

Solea Pfeiffer as Eva Peron, photo @Sara Krulwich
For the second time in a week I've seen an operatic work about a highly polarizing historical figure. Last Friday I saw Philip Glass's Akhnaten and tonight I saw New York City Center's production of Evita. I've never actually seen Evita live before.

I can't believe I'm using Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice as examples of skillful dramaturges but Evita was everything that Akhnaten wasn't. Tim Rice was not afraid to paint his own picture of Eva Perón which mixed fact with fiction. Webber's music portrays the different facets of Perón-- her naked ambition in "Goodnight and Thank You" and her shiny charisma in the anthem "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." So I know that Philip Glass is a much superior composer to ALW, but Evita was engaging in all the ways Akhnaten wasn't.

Maia Reficco as young Eva, photo @ Sara Krulwich
Sammi Cannold's production big "concept" was to have young Eva played by a different actress. The switch from young Eva to adult Eva occurs during "Bueno Aires." Maia Reficco was excellent -- plain and unglamorous, she shadows the adult Eva throughout the musical to remind the audience of Eva's humble beginnings.

Otherwise, Cannold follows the general Encores! format. There’s higher musical values than production values. The orchestra is in a raised platform while the singers sing on the lower half of the stage. A few stage tricks here and there give the illusion of an almost fully-staged musical. Maybe the most effective is the layered bed of flowers that suggests the massive outpouring of grief at Eva's death. Costume designer Alejo Vietti had Eva always dressed in white -- from lingerie to plain smocks to her famous Christian Dior gowns. The haphazard budget nature of these productions was betrayed by the barebones props and the sloppy, routine dancing. Talk about by-the-numbers choreography. It was a lost opportunity because ALW's music does have some catchy tango rhythms. And who doesn't love a good tango?

Eva Perón
The performances were good if not great. Solea Pfeiffer has a strong voice. I sometimes felt that the role was pushing her voice to its ceiling but she acquited herself well with this difficult part, although if you are looking for a Patti Lupone power belt in "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" you'll be disappointed. The role is notoriously difficult and Patti Lupone (who originated the role on Broadway) has never stopped complaining about it wrecking her voice.

What Pfeiffer didn't have was the warmth and charisma that would make the absolute adoration of the Argentinian people for Perón understandable. Pfeiffer played up the cold, grasping parts of Eva's personality. She was excellent when te musical depicted her sleeping her way to the top as an actress and dispatching Juan Perón's mistress.

But I think the musical's Eva is more nuanced than Pfeiffer's Eva. Perón did inspire fanatical love and the musical attempts to show why -- her compassion for the poor, her rags-to-riches story that made her relatable to ordinary Argentinians. And this isn't Pfeiffer's fault but her face is rather aquiline and doesn't have the round, open, friendly look that Perón had (see above). The real-life Eva had a face that drew you in. Pfeiffer's energy is chillier.

Here is footage of Eva when she was dying of cancer:



Gotay and Pfeiffer, photo @ Sara Krulwich
Jason Gotay as Che narrates the musical with a kind of bland indifference. He has a pleasant voice and looks good. But he gives off an All-American vibe instead of a Latin American SJW/revolutionary. Che is supposed to be a constant antagonist/narrator in the musical. Here he fades into the background. Maria Christine Skye as Juan Perón's discarded mistress made the most out of her number "Another Suitcase in Another Hall." Philip Hernandez as the tango star Magaldi who gets Eva into the "business" got the right mix of suaveness and toolishness. Enrique Hernandez as Juan Perón was very boring but I think that's the point. I mentioned this earlier but Maia Reficco as young Eva really gave the evening a much-needed dose of warmth and soul.

So this Evita was not perfect, but it was well worth seeing. I didn't cry for Eva Perón, but I almost did. And that's a good evening at the theater. Performances run through Sunday. I got my ticket for a bargain on tdf.

In other news, I reviewed the farewell performance of several veteran Paul Taylor dancers for bachtrack here. An excerpt:
Esplanade needs no introduction; like Merce Cunningham's Summerspace or Alvin Ailey's Revelations, it's foolproof. The performance was at the quality we expect from Taylor dancers. All the famous moments were performed with brio; the running, the skipping, the the sliding, the leaps into each others' arms. So when the final curtain fell and the stage was awash with bouquets one wondered why Fleet, Khobdeh, Walker, Mahoney, and Kleinendorst were retiring (the last two on 13 December).
But I suppose that's the best thing one can possibly wonder at a retirement performance. These classy dancers left the stage before the stage left them.

Here is the curtain calls video I took of their farewells:

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