28 Aug 2011: Off Center Theater Kansas City, MO
Evita, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s revered musical was, by and large, excellently rendered on its final date, nearly filling the 243-seat theater. The popular and acclaimed musical won an astonishing seven Tony Awards for its 1979 Broadway stint, including Best Musical, Original Score, and also, Best Book. But materially, Patti LuPone, who portrayed Eva Perón, won a Tony Award for best performance by a leading actress. This fact is no surprise, as Eva Perón (“Evita”) was the center of the musical’s universe. In this concept album-indebted “rock opera”, directed by Sarah Crawford, singer and actress Katie Karel dominated as the charitable, modest Eva and the power-hungry Eva. Indeed, Karel put on one sensational show.
A critical part of Musical Theater Heritage’s seasonal lineup, which underscores American musicals, Webber and Rice’s dramatic masterpiece couldn’t have been a better choice. This is particularly the case due to the technical and sage decision to cast Katie Karel in the title role as Eva Perón. Karel didn’t do too much actual acting in this unique affair – because it is principally a concert – but that was the entire premise, and it worked. The musical itself is set for a 2012 Broadway revival.
Rather, Karel’s Eva was an undoubtedly proficient 1940s lounge singer type. In fact, Karel credibly sang in some fifteen solid numbers, entailing such aural-lyrical beauties as “Buenos Aires”, “A New Argentina”, “Eva’s Final Broadcast”, and of course the patriotic “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina”. Karel’s singing performance was nearly matchless and spot-on. That said, Perón’s mistress (Aubrey Ireland) also sang a key ballad well, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”. The band deserved considerable credit, as well – specifically, violinist Brad Athey and keyboardist Jakob Wozniak. The guitar notes sounded muddled and low-key, perhaps so as not to drown out Karel’s voice.
The musical’s narrative rather directly illustrated the life of Eva Perón of Argentina. Eva happened to be the wife of that nation’s dictator, Juan Perón (Christopher Sanders). The conflict arose when Eva became beloved by the Argentine masses; she was all but worshiped as a saint - nearly a Mother Teresa degree of politico-cultural distraction. She emblematically wore a naively joyous white dress most of the gig. Her husband Juan Perón, however, was spending the nation’s wealth like a drunken sailor, and in turmoil. The concern is that Eva Perón helped uphold the totalitarian state, humble and kind though she may have been.
Probably Karel’s best-performed, fitting song was the cynical, calculating “A New Argentina” during which she readily advised Mr. Perón to avoid “political suicide” and “sit and wait” to maintain total power. Sanders had a minor role as the stoic, handsome dictator, but he did well. Che (Tim Scott), the wandering, loudmouthed narrator-satirist was obnoxious; he slightly fought with Eva’s stage presence, and he was ridiculously dressed as a Libyan freedom fighter double.
Karel’s semi-villainous songstress-politico Eva seemed consistent with Eva’s purported controversial farewell, “Mi Mensaje” (“My Message”), which concluded in this manner: “But meanwhile, it is essential that the men of the people, of the working class, not sell out to the oligarchic race of exploiters”. Moreover, enunciated Eva, “Every exploiter is the people’s enemy” and lastly “Justice demands that they be destroyed!” All the while she incessantly parroted Peronist propaganda. In operatic art and in life, then, Eva both identified with the disenfranchised people and supported an absolutist regime, and she found no contradiction with that. She dictated, for instance, “The people must impose this Peronist truth on the entire world.” She claimed she wasn’t seduced by power but nevertheless was, in fact, First Lady of Argentina, aside from other ambitions. “I know all the truths and all the lies of the world” – probably Evita’s most veritable line. “She is a Diamond” indeed.