MSMT's Evita a glittering spectacle
by Gina Hamilton
"You were supposed to have been immortal," Che Guevara, played flawlessly by Matt Farcher, laments to the dead Eva Peron as the show opens. "That's all they wanted ... not much to ask for." Andrew Lloyd Webber, however, actually pulls it off in Evita, a classic musical now running at Maine State Music Theater, from now until July 16. The musical details the short life, and shorter political life, of Eva Peron, Argentina's controversial first lady in the immediate post-war period.
The musical combines lyrical ballads with high-energy jazz and South American rhythms and dancing that is a joy to behold. Eva, played by newcomer Kate Fahrner, desperate to leave her village for the bright lights of Buenos Aires, convinces a very reluctant traveling musician (Ben Michael) to take her there, and promptly dumps him, becoming a radio and film actress, and trading men (and in one case, a woman, played by Salena Quereshi) up and up until she connives to meet Juan Peron (Nat Chandler), the man who is expected to be president of Argentina. Her meteoric rise from illegitimate peasant to first lady of a prosperous nation takes only a few years, and in less than seven years after her marriage and her husband's ascent to the presidency, she dies from cervical cancer, the same disease that killed Juan Peron's first wife.
But during that time, she makes bitter enemies of the British aristocracy, and the military, none of whom can touch her because she has millions of adoring peasants who see her as a saint, sent to help them out of their desperate situations. Although the reality is different from the rhetoric, Eva Peron did in fact begin a charitable foundation and help millions of the poor, and is credited with pushing forth women's suffrage. Many women ran for -- and won -- political office through a party that bore her name after her death.
Che Guevara, the revolutionary who would one day help to lead the Cuban revolution, serves as narrator. Although he and the Perons had no real-world relationship, the two -- Evita's hope for the "descamisados" (shirtless ones) to become part of the "New Argentina" -- and Che Guevara's belief that it was necessary to do away with the past to forge a new future -- were similar in their naivete. There are too many well-heeled forces opposing them, and only a rag-tag army of peasants behind them.
Che's sometimes awestruck, sometimes dismissive narrative can't deny the power that Eva Peron brings to her husband's campaign and presidency, however.
The bright and glorious "New Argentina", sung by all the Peronists, including the peasants, the trade unionists, and the small business people, could have been written in any era, extoling the virtues of work and the working class.
Of special note was the tango, choreographed and danced by Mark Stuart and Jamie Verazin. Even if Argentine history isn't your cup of yerba mate, the tango is worth the price of admission alone. Also of note is the child choir, sung beautifully by a group of very talented local youngsters.
Evita will play until July 16, and tickets are going fast.Visit msmt.org for ticket information and to purchase tickets.