Some things are timeless. “Don’t cry for me Argentina, the truth is I never left you” are lines that might seem distant for those in this generation, yet they never fail to transmit the nostalgia for which they were conceived. The Boston College Theatre Department production of Evita is no exception to the rule. Paul Daigneault, Boston Conservatory professor and BC ’87, directed the 1978 classic with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, featuring strong dramatic performances and breathtaking tango dances, albeit some problematic directorial choices.
The story is led by a caustic Che, (David Makransky, MCAS ’17), who tells the life of Eva Duarte (Jessie Shaw, MCAS ’19), a young woman born in a middle-class family in provincial Argentina. One night, she seduces a tango singer (Joe McCarthy, CSOM ’17) and convinces him to take her to Buenos Aires with him. There, she becomes a famous actress, amid the political turmoil of the 1943 military coup. She falls in love with Juan Perón (Simon Rogers, CSOM ’17), a rising politician, and moves in with him, kicking out his mistress (Imogen Parry, the University of Glasgow). Eva, also known by the Spanish diminutive Evita, acts as his right hand in his presidential election, in which he triumphs.
Eva positions herself as a tireless defender of the descamisados (“the shirtless ones”) and becomes loved by the working class nationwide. She soon discovers that this won’t win her the appreciation of the aristocracy, or even of foreign diplomats. Eva, therefore, looks to accumulate more power, and aims to achieve her dream of leading a more just nation.
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The power-hungry yet always glamorous Eva Perón is performed stunningly by Shaw. Her singing numbers are moving, and she conveys the oscillation between megalomania and vulnerability in her character. Shaw can make an audience tear up with the classic “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” and distance herself with heavily dramatic scenes. She plays an authentic Evita flashed by the lights of Buenos Aires and, most importantly, of the people’s love. Shaw’s ability for dance is also praiseworthy, performing complex steps with fast paces. Her dramatic versatility suits the character perfectly, making her performance one of the show’s best highlights.
Rogers does a gentle interpretation of Juan Perón. A skillful baritone, he hits the low notes of the musically complex character perfectly. Moreover, Rogers’ confidence on stage makes his appearance as the political leader feel natural.
Makransky takes the stage with his excellent portrayal as Che. He embodies the Greek chorus ingeniously, and he navigates the stage and engages with the ensemble with an admirable ease. Makransky’s chemistry with Shaw is especially remarkable. Their interactions, all of them in Eva’s imagination, are delightfully performed, and their tango number is praiseworthy. Moreover, Makransky sings with an incomparable elegance.
Parry and McCarthy deliver solid portrayals in their roles. Parry plays Perón’s mistress, and breaks the audience’s heart with a flawless performance of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.” McCarthy portrays, Agustín Magaldi, Eva’s first love interest and a tango singer. He dominates the dance with the charm of a true porteño, both with his singing and his dancing.
The content of the show does raise some noteworthy issues. Although an undeniably polarizing figure, Eva Perón is generally regarded as a key political referent for women in Latin America. The musical reduces her political ambitions to a frantic quest for popularity, and her charity work as a personal grudge against the rich. It simplifies politics to whims, forgetting her leadership in the fight for women’s rights and labor rights. In keeping with the theme of Robsham productions this year, depicting women in different roles, one may question whether a better choice lied in a production like The Wiz or Into the Woods.
Although smoothly performed by Makransky, the character of Che is very problematic. The original script does not explicit Che as the Cuban Revolution’s leader, Che Guevara—“Che” is a word used worldwide to casually refer to Argentines. In fact, the 1996 film adaptation and the 2006 London productions did not directly interpret the character of Che as Guevara. Many interpretations of the show allow the viewer to decide whether Che is Guevara or a regular Argentine. But the director’s choice to remove this agency presents a caricatured idea of the country, putting together two characters that never had anything to do with each other.
Despite these questionable decisions, Daigneault shines as a director in other respects. The ensemble interacts seamlessly with the main cast, and at no times does it feel artificial. There’s a natural spark among the characters, which is by no means a given in musical theatre. The tango choreographies directed by David Connolly, which the cast perform flawlessly, seem at ease with the show’s flow. Moreover, the set is minimalistic yet extremely versatile.
Considerations about how and why it achieves this aside, Evita is a musical that shows the vulnerability of power. The BC Theatre Department production is a praiseworthy exploration that, through breathtaking performances, manages to display the brightest and dimmest places of a fearless leader’s life.
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor