2010-11-05 / Dining & Entertainment

‘Evita’ lights up the stage at High Street Arts Center

Play review
By Cary Ginell originjazz@aol.com

DON’T CRY FOR ME—Eva Peron (Sarah Bulger) and ensemble members perform “What’s New Buenos Aires?” during the opening performance of the High Street Arts Center’s “Evita” on Oct. 8. The musical runs through Nov. 14 at Moorpark’s downtown theater. Photo courtesy of Ken Rayzor DON’T CRY FOR ME—Eva Peron (Sarah Bulger) and ensemble members perform “What’s New Buenos Aires?” during the opening performance of the High Street Arts Center’s “Evita” on Oct. 8. The musical runs through Nov. 14 at Moorpark’s downtown theater. Photo courtesy of Ken Rayzor A Broadway premiere is one of the most electrically charged events one can attend in show business. Even in the hamlet that is downtown Moorpark, one feels the excitement when a new production makes its debut at the historic High Street Arts Center.

Oct. 8 saw the opening of “Evita,” the immensely popular Broadway musical by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber about the life of Argentina’s controversial first lady, Eva Peron (1919– 1952). The show will run through Nov. 14.

Like Rice and Lloyd Webber’s two previous collaborations (“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Jesus Christ Superstar”), “Evita” began as a rock opera concept album. With the help of producer Harold Prince, it was converted to a stage musical in London’s West End in 1978, coming to Broadway the following year. It eventually won three Tony awards, including Best Musical.

The show is based on a biography of Peron that was extremely critical of her, claiming that the aspiring actress slept her way to power and took advantage of the Argentinean people’s adoration by looting the nation’s coffers, laundering money and flaunting her ostentatious wardrobe.

In reality, Peron was a populist— a beloved champion of Argentina’s oppressed citizens, fighting on behalf of labor unions and women’s rights. But we get a show that could have easily been called “All About Eva” for its distorted depiction of her as a manipulative female barracuda.

The High Street Arts Center’s production features an excellent cast led by Sarah Bulger in the title role. As with many Lloyd Webber scores, “Evita” is structured around a central song, the sweeping “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” which Eva sings from the palace balcony after the election of her husband, Juan Peron (Sheldon Sherman), to the throne.

Bulger is both tender and forceful in her rendering of the song, which is delivered from one of the two convenient balconies that flank the theater’s stage.

The remaining songs in the score are a pastiche of indigenous Latin musical styles, translated through the filter of a rock beat. The show is entirely sung, operastyle, with no spoken dialogue. Unfortunately, the prerecorded orchestration was too loud in many instances, preventing the audience from hearing much of the lyrics and the singers’ voices.

Aside from Bulger’s convincing performance as Eva, two standouts in the cast are Philip Wieck as the cynical narrator (a device also used in “Joseph”), the omniscient Che (loosely based on revolutionary Che Guevara), and Luis Cardenas as the smarmy tango singer Agustin Migaldi, who first brings Eva to Buenos Aires.

Bulger and Sherman are especially good in the sultry tango “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You,” in which the characters begin their mutually beneficial relationship. Also a musical highlight is “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” sweetly sung by Lauren Tyni as Juan Peron’s mistress.

Wieck plays the key role of Che with great charisma and power. One is drawn to him even when he’s just standing to the side of the stage observing the action, arms folded, with a knowing expression on his face.

In Act II, the role of Juan Peron basically disappears as Evita gains power and Che remains on stage to remind the audience of the ulterior motives of Evita’s transparently beneficent acts as first lady.

Despite the synthesized, unemotional soundtrack, this production of “Evita” works because of the outstanding performances by the cast and the skillful direction of Ken Rayzor. Hopefully, the High Street Arts Center will be able to include live musicians, which would categorically enhance the effectiveness of its future productions.

For ticket information, call (805) 529-8700 or visit www.highstreetartscenter.com.

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