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`EVITA': YOU WON'T CRY FOR THIS `ARGENTINA'.

Byline: Daryl H. Miller Daily News Theater Critic

It's an election year, which seems a good time to revisit the tale of ambition, greed and power told in ``Evita.''

And then, of course, there's the advance publicity about the upcoming movie version (starring that grasping, Evita-like pop diva, Madonna) to whet our appetites.

We're primed. Now, if only we had a better production to go see ...

The Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical about Eva Peron, Argentina's rags-to-riches first lady of the late 1940s and early '50s, performs through Sunday at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza and next week at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.

Sent out by Theater League (a Kansas City, Mo.-based producing organization), the show re-creates Harold Prince's fluid staging and Larry Fuller's crisp choreography, as well as the original 1978 production's metal-frame set and montage of black-and-white photos and newsreel footage of the real Eva. And while Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin apparently weren't available for these engagements, the principal performers - Valerie Perri as Eva, David Wasson as Juan Peron and John Herrera as narrator and dissenting voice Che Guevara - all have long histories with the show.

Yes, all the original elements are here except the most important one: the energy. As pulled together by director-choreographers Don and Bonnie Ward, the production goes through its paces with the half-hearted commitment of a touring company in its umpteenth month on the road.

Fortunately, this pop opera is so solidly written that not much can destroy it.

While Lloyd Webber and Rice's breakthrough musical, ``Jesus Christ Superstar,'' featured a protagonist skeptical of the celebrity thrust upon him, their next show featured a leading lady who determinedly seeks it out.

Evita is portrayed as a poor suburban girl who sleeps her way to Buenos Aires and an acting career, finally landing in bed with rising political figure Juan Peron. Evita's early lovers parade through a literal revolving door, while Peron rises through the ranks of Argentina's ruling military clique in a game of musical chairs in which thuggish, cigar-chomping officers grimly circle a dwindling row of rocking chairs.

The celebrity-mad Evita prods Peron into the presidency, while ensuring her own popularity in the now-immortal ``Don't Cry for Me, Argentina,'' in which - in a brilliantly audacious move - she pretends to accept her riches and power merely as symbols of the limitless possibilities she and her husband intend to provide the disadvantaged working class.

Thus, the show becomes - if one accepts its cynical view - a satire of political greed and vainglory. And it warns us that politicians can always get mileage out of commiserating with the hard-working average person - regardless of how sincere they actually are.

As Eva, Perri conveys gleaming-eyed ambition early in the story and clench-jawed determination as cancer later robs her of her achievements. As Peron, Wasson is a master of subtlety - an ever-so-slightly stunned and worried look on his face as Eva playacts her way into the people's hearts. Yet even as they impress, they seem to be sleepwalking through their parts.

And Herrera is an out-and-out disappointment as Che, the sound system making his strained singing voice sound still more shrill.

THE FACTS

The show: ``Evita.''

When: 2 and 8 p.m. today, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. Also 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. May 11, 2 and 7 p.m. May 12 at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale.

Running time: Two hours, 20 minutes; one intermission.

Tickets: $29.50 to $35.50 in Thousand Oaks; call Ticketmaster, (805) 583-8700 or (213) 480-3232. $32.50 to $35.50 in Glendale; call Telecharge, (800) 233-3123.

Our rating: Two Stars.

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Photo

Photo: Valerie Perri stars in the Theater League production of ``Evita,'' at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza and the Alex Theatre in Glendale.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Theater Review
Date:May 4, 1996
Words:652
Previous Article:BARGAINS : BE BIG, BAD, BEAUTIFUL FOR LESS.
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