Argentina Still Weeps: “EVITA”

Photo courtesy of The Umbrella Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of The Umbrella Facebook page.

Presented by The Umbrella
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Directed by Brian Boruta
Music Direction by Maria Robinson
Choreography by Lara Finn
Presented at the Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts
November 14 – 29
Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts
40 Stow St., Concord, MA 01742
Emerson Umbrella on Facebook

Review by Danielle Rosvally

(Concord, MA) Alright, Andrew Lloyd Weber. Here’s the deal.

I know that your career has sprouted some of the longest-running Broadway hits in the history of Broadway. Cats was my first Broadway musical, and I would be delusional if I said that Phantom of the Opera was anything other than a Broadway legend. But why, oh why, do you allow unsuspecting community theatres (or theatres of any degree of professionalism) to lease the rights for your early works?

The Emerson Umbrella is trying so very hard to make Evita work. They’re giving it their all. And they are not untalented people; Jess Andra has some serious pipes that she’s showing off as the title role, Ken Bayliss steals the show with his depiction of Che, and good god what I wouldn’t give to have David Leong (Juan Peron) sing me to sleep at night with his rich operatic voice. But even they can’t make your clunky, cumbersome show which completely lacks musicality anything but palatable and pleasant. It’s like pear sorbet; it will never be “great” no matter how good the ingredients are simply because the recipe stinks.

The sets for this productions are brilliant in their simplicity; the levels are utilized to a “T” and every inch of the stage is played upon in a meaningful way. Seif Allah Cristobal lights the space in a dramatic way which lends to the action at every turn (and lighting is a subtle craft much like alchemy: do it right and the audience barely explicitly notices, do it wrong and the play becomes a disaster).

The only thing that really stumbles is the choreography. For a show that’s entirely about Argentina, you would think that “tango” would be the word of the night. Unfortunately, Lara Finn has no deftness with it and her dancers look bland and uninspired. The far-from-fiery tangos go through the motions of Argentine without ever becoming spectacular. So much for dancing with these stars.

I was honestly so distracted by how awful the score was that I had a hard time focusing on everything else. And it’s not their fault, Andrew Lloyd Weber. It’s not their fault that your final montage was just you giving up and deciding to have every character onstage sing a different song from the show simultaneously while crossing your fingers and hoping it works out. It’s not their fault that you force that poor actress to sing “Don’t Cry for me, Argentina” so many times over the course of the production that I can only liken its repetitive nature in the score to that of slow torture by water dripping on the forehead. And it’s not their fault that you somehow magically decided to transport Che Guevara to Argentina (without a single mention of it in your text) to serve as omniscient narrator for your doomed parade of glittering disaster. Do you have any idea how many dramaturgical problems you just created? DO YOU!?

I guess I can’t hold you personally accountable for my last beef with the show: that is its sly nod at the complicated Argentinian history of dictatorship and mistreatment/slaughter of the masses while presenting in big bold letters the glittering success of its one “good guy” leader. It’s not your fault that you wrote a musical in 1976 about a country that was (at that time) on the brink of a bloody civil war fought so covertly that the damages from it are still being uncovered and assessed. You couldn’t have known when you wrote Evita about how far the Junta would go, how awful the Dirty War would be, or how much trauma the disappearances associated with it would create. But that doesn’t let modern productions of Evita ignore these complications; and it certainly doesn’t let modern audiences forget them.

Unfortunately, Umbrella does little to juxtapose the pain with the glamour. And because of that, I can’t say that I enjoyed Evita despite the stellar performances it showcases. Andrew Lloyd Weber is mostly to blame.

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