Spectacular production shows weak book
by Olivia Morgan
The Vancouver Opera creates a slick and gorgeous package in their current mounting of Evita – unfortunately due to some incredibly weak material, there’s very little inside.
Evita tells the story of the meteoric rise to fame and power of Eva Peron, nee Duarte. ‘When we first meet the seemingly naive and bright eyed 15-year-old, she has attached herself to travelling musician Agustin Magaldi as a way to leave her small Argentinian town behind, and travel to the nation’s capital. Her hope is to become a successful actress, model, and radio star.
Once in Buenos Aires, she ditches Magaldi and works her way through a series of men of increasing importance, leaving each of them once they are no longer of any use to her. Meantime Colonel Juan Domingo Peron makes his own societal ascent as he moves up in Argentina’s political ranks.
The two meet and quickly align themselves romantically and politically. With Eva at his side, Peron is elected president of Argentina, but it’s clear that the people really love and identify with Eva – they chant her nickname Evita in the streets and hang on her every word. But is Eva all that she appears to be? There are questions around whether she’s doing any good for the working class Argentinians, who love her so, and rumours of money laundering swirl around her Foundation that is meant to help Argentina’s poorest.
Evita was originally conceived as a concept album, not a stage musical, and it shows. Long passages which are fun to listen to don’t really forward the plot – such as a lengthy soliloquy from Peron’s mistress, who is ousted once Eva appears on the scene. The song is sweet – but it’s odd that we spend so much time on the heartbreak of a character that we don’t know at all, and who we never see again.
Meanwhile important plot points are only mentioned in passing. At one point a brief mention of Peron’s opponents disappearing goes by so quickly the gravity of the statement has no time to land – if audience members even register it at all. Towards the end of the show Eva is suddenly ill – dying in fact, but when this news reaches the audience it’s presented like it should be common knowledge.
The whole show is narrated by Che, a character who has a lot of the trappings of Che Guevara, but who Tim Rice adamantly stated when the show as first created was not meant to be a representation of the well-known revolutionary. This is, of course, wildly confusing if one spends any time trying to discern the meaning behind this character.
Thin plot and odd devices aside, The Vancouver Opera production looks spectacular. Drew Facey’s set, made up of giant, multi-level scaffolding with fabric stretched across it to serve as projection screens, is magnificent. It serves the production well with its versatility as the action jumps from place to place. It also doubles as a nice icon for Eva herself – something commonplace, dressed up to suit the needs of whatever situation came her way. Facey doubles as costume designer and achieves just as much success. Everyone looks incredibly sexy, and when Eva makes her first appearance as First Lady in a wildly over-the-top white ball gown, there are audible gasps from the audience.
Designer elevates spectacle
The projections in this piece are stunning too. Designer Jamie Nesbitt does a fantastic job of taking us from place to place. His work elevates the spectacle of the piece, allowing the stage to feel full of life and light. Tracey Flye’s choreography is tight and fun, and director Kelly Robinson creates enjoyable stage pictures throughout; the rally scene at the end of act one is particularly captivating.
There is a lot of talent on the stage. The voices throughout are clear and strong, although they grappled with some technical difficulties on opening night, with microphones cutting in and out throughout the first half.
As Evita, Mezzo-Soprano Caroline Bowman is a powerhouse. Her voice is spectacular, and she brings a lovely vulnerability to the part as Eva’s body begins to break down and her power wanes. As Peron, Tenor John Cudio is the embodiment of charm, and Tenor Cooper Grodin is suitably ridiculous as the travelling musician Magaldi. Pulling off Che is no easy task, as the part makes so little sense to begin with; while his voice is outstanding, Tenor Ramin Karimloo is missing the kind of roguish charm required to keep the audience engaged with this character. Local Soprano Shannon Chan-Kent is a standout as Peron’s mistress, bringing beautiful depth to a relatively small part.
The Vancouver Opera has staged a few Broadway musicals over the last few years, and it’s always interesting to see an established organization stretch itself and experiment with different styles. Previous musicals the company produced include West Side Story and Sweeney Todd, some of the most complex and rich musicals in existence. Evita is a sharp departure in terms of overall depth. No matter how well it’s dressed up, this show just doesn’t have a lot to offer.
Lyrics by Tim Rice and Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, April 30, May 1, 5, 6, 7 & 8
Cast: Ramin Karimloo, Caroline Bowman, Cooper Grodin, John Cudia, Shannon Chan-Kent; with the Vancouver Opera Chorus as citizens of Argentina, and the Vancouver Opera Orchestra.
Production: Conductor – Jonathan Darlington, Director – Kelly Robinson, Choreographer – Tracey Flye, Chorus Director/Associate Conductor – Leslie Dala, Scenic & Costume Designer – Drew Facey, Lighting Designer – Gerald King; Projection Designer – Jamie Nesbitt, Sound Designer – Andy Horka, Wig Designer – Stacey Butterworth, Associate Wig Designer – Susan Manning, Principal Repetiteur/Assistant Chorus Director/Children’s Chorus Director Musical Preparation – Tina Chang, Kimberley-Ann Bartczak, Stage Manager – Theresa Tsang, Dance Captain/Chorus – Scott Augustine, Assistant Lighting Designer – Julie Martens, Assistant Projection Designer – Cameron Frazer, English SURTITLES – Anika Vervecken, Assistant Stage Managers – Marijka Asbeek Brusse, Melania Radelicki