Arts & Culture Editor
“Evita” opens The Fulton’s theatre season with a production of epic scope and authenticity. “Evita” tells the real life rags to riches story of Eva Peron, the wife of Argentinian president and dictator Juan Peron. Peron was a much loved 1940s celebrity figure by the people of her country. The musical “Evita” by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber has been performed all over the world, including a film version starring Madonna, yet The Fulton’s production frames the piece as a political drama/satire, making the piece more relevant than ever.
Serving as a narrator and voice of reason in this musical is the character of Che (Omar Lopez-Cepero). Che as an observer and guide for the audience is shown throughout Eva’s journey, watching her as she goes from a poor young Argentinian woman to the height of society and glamor. At each moment, the character is critical of her success and views her as self centered. Cepero puts in an incredibly commanding performance in his interpretation of Che.
In this production, Che is onstage for the majority of the show, and signals the passage of time with just the literal snap of his fingers. Cepero brings a hamminess to the role that makes the case for Che as the showman of this piece. With commedically mocking looks throughout and with a winking glare in his eyes, Cepero plays Che’s cynicism with an infectious glee.
He also sings Webber and Rice’s beloved ballad, “High Flying Adored” with a gentleness and tenderness that shows the character’s slight bit of admiration for this lady of Argentina. He displays excellent chemistry with the rest of the cast, and although not as much of a dance role, he moves very well, particularly in the buoyant “Rainbow Tour” sequence. Cepero leads the show and audience effortlessly through this exciting story.
Monica Ramirez gives a star-making performance as Eva Peron. Ramirez, with a fierce belt and energy that is on full display in iconic numbers such as “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and “Rainbow High,” is performed with great passion as the character gains power. “Rainbow High” specifically has the actress belting to the heavens as she completes glamorous outfit changes.
She portrays this Argentinian icon as a spunky driven young woman who’s desperation for the love of her people and control of her country, are what brought her up, but also were her biggest detriment and divider. Ramirez also dances Robin’s pulsing latin inspired choreography with a fierce force and spirit as strong as Eva herself. Ramirez’s Eva is driven, yet she also is very self centered, always focusing on how the people and public respond. Ramirez creates an Eva that is admirable yet also flawed and complex. This three dimensional portrayal of this person humanizes this iconic figure and brings her to a modern audience.
Enrique Acevedo is an equally commanding presence as the Argentinian dictator, Juan Peron. Although a quieter role than the showier Eva, Acevedo displays his character as a symbol of authoritarian rule yet also a mild nature that makes him a perfect fit for the more lively Eva.
Acevedo particularly shines in his second act ballad, “She is a Diamond” as Peron defends Eva and her legacy to his fellow officers who are skeptical of her success. He is a strong counterpart to Ramirez’s “Evita”” and supports her very strongly as does the character.
Other standouts include Alan Mendez as the singer Magaldi who has a brief, but entertaining role as someone who helps Eva got her start in Argentina and out of poverty. Shea Gomez also has a nice moment as Peron’s mistress who sings the vulnerable ballad, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, with the tenderness it deserves. The entire cast is very strong as they dance and guide the audience through the story of “Evita.”
Marc Robin’s choreography and direction for this production is grand and sweeping as it is very smart and economical in it’s storytelling.Robin makes the wise choice of framing Che as the piece’s narrator and guide through the story.
Robin has Che begin the show with a snap of the finger and he has the character onstage constantly and questioning the events in Eva’s life. The biting cynicism of the Che character contrasted against the optimism of the crowd scenes, keeps the audience questioning whether to dislike or adore”Evita””.”
Robin also frames the piece as a smart political drama keeping the scenery relatively minimal, with a broader focus on storytelling and characters. This choice brings this popular piece into the 21st century and allows the audience to objectively view this story and draw parallels from Eva’s politics to the chaotic political sphere of today.
His choreography is equally as strong with electrifying latin inspired dances as in the standout “Buenos Aires” sequence which charts Eva’s rise from a poor girl from the streets to her start as an Argentinian actress. Ramirez and the ensemble also bring a great fire to this sequence that make it soar.
Much praise must also be given to Kurt Alger whose costume designs particularly for the glitter-filled white gown in the “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” sequence elicit gasps from the audience. His various looks and fur coats for Ramirez’s “Evita” in the “Rainbow High” sequence also impresses as Eva gracefully struts across the stage. Charles S. Kading and Paul Black’s scenic and lighting elements are also extremely well done.
Black’s grayscale projections transport the audience back to the 1940s. The jaw dropping white spotlights particularly in the opening “Requiem For Evita” sequence add a cinematic sweep to the proceedings. Although eye catching throughout, the scenery and lights meet their artistic peak in the glorious balcony sequence that opens the second act. With outstanding direction, a talented diverse cast, and an incredibly strong creative team, The Fulton Theatre’s production of “Evita” is a socially relevant and enthralling piece of theatre for today.