Sunday, November 24, 2019

Learning Through Theatre: 'Evita' at New York City Center

The most shocking thing about New York City Center's production of Evita isn't the incredible cast and the stunning sets (I've been to NYCC before, their work is always impeccable). It's an offhand comment uttered by the character of Che towards the end of the show. Let me be clear, I've never seen Evita (somehow) and I can't say I know much about Eva Peron either. So when Che says (spoiler alert!) without further explanation, "and her body went missing for 17 years", I was a little taken aback.  I had more than a few questions. How does such an important figure's body just disappear? Also, how did I not know this? Granted, I had never seen the show, but I do read. I feel this is something I would have seen in some random article I decided to peruse. Nope - this was definitely news to me.

Thankfully, I was able to look into it, as well as lots more about the Perons. (Yay Google!) And I have to say, while Evita the show is beautiful if not in need of work, Eva the person is fascinating. And while the show features not a small amount of artistic license, I learned a lot in those 120 minutes, the show's interpretations not withstanding. As in most of his productions, Andrew Lloyd Weber has created a work around the world of this larger than life character that is gorgeous to look at and listen to, even though it has its own troublesome reputation, much like the character of Eva herself. Whether it is the portrayal of how Eva used the men in her life to reach her own goals, or how the men treated a very Eva in the 1940s, many people have many thoughts on Evita.

I fall somewhere in between. It taught me a lot. The score is out of this world beautiful. But I also apparently never understood the premise. I'm going to preface this with, I was not a History major in college. I didn't realize that the character/narrator of Che wasn't actually meant to be Che Guevara. There's no evidence Che Guevara and Eva Peron ever knew each other, as I've learned. Most productions of the classic do nothing to dispel this myth. This piece of information came from the talkback with the cast and crew. I'm not sure why, but the show makes less sense to me now knowing that.

Like I said, it's a bit muddled. But beyond that, this particular production is stellar! Don't let me shape your opinion, because contrary to my own philosophical questions, I enjoyed it immensely. Solea Pfeiffer is phenomenal as the titular Evita. Her voice has never sounded better. Equally Jason Gotay as Che (not Guevara) is also incredible, though he's not given much to do. He deserves more of an arc, rather than just wandering off and on stage periodically. But that may have more to do with the piece, than the production itself.

The set pieces are also a work of beauty and creativity. While you've most likely seen them if you've seen any production photos floating around the internet, the risers covered in white roses, are stunning. They are used throughout the show, becoming a balcony as well as a key element of Eva's funeral procession. Since I most know NYCC for their Encore week long productions, their sets are often sparse, so it was fun to see something so intricate for a change, during this Gala presentation.

Whichever side you fall on in regards to Eva being a leader for the people of Buenos Aires, or a money-hungry social climber, this production will still delight. It's beautiful to look at, and hear those oh-so-famous songs performed in new and surprising ways. And if you're also not a History major, you may actually be pushed to research the life of this fascinating woman a bit more, like I have, and learn even more about this incredible moment in history.

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