PARK CITY — Evita, as presented by the Egyptian Theater, tells the story of former Argentinian first lady Eva Perón. From humble origins, to a B-film star, to her slow manipulation into the political realm, Evita crafts an intricate tale of this infamous woman’s life. Co-written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, the musical encompasses various aspects of both her coming of age and a rise to the notoriety of the world spotlight. Love her or hate her, the musical presents a biographic picture of her notorious life, complete with Latin flavor and elements of “romance” and politics.
Those moments that could be heard, however, were sung well. I appreciated the vocal strength and the stamina it took for those playing leads to execute the majority of the vocal work of this production. Erin Royall Carlson as Eva Perón demonstrated a variety of genre in her performance and was able to deliver on those iconic songs such as “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.” William Cooper Howell’s Che seemed an absolute powerhouse; Howell’s charisma and vocal fortitude were a charming facet of the evening’s performance. Another of the striking performances of the evening came from Erica Walter (Mistress) in “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.” Choral numbers (those that could be distinguished from the overbearing vocal track, that is) blended well and managed to convey a larger number than seemed to be on stage. I appreciated the cast’s cohesiveness in this particular realm of the show.
It should be noted, though, that sound levels were a bit skewed the night I attended. The music track completely overshadowed any microphones, so as to make it extremely difficult to understand the lyrics. Were there any dialogue to help delineate the story, it would have been easier to understand what was going on. But several theater patrons around me commented on the nature of the loud music volume and the consequential difficulty in understanding the words being sung. Che’s explanation of the political situation in Argentina at the time went was poorly communicated, and therefore the fundamental setup of the story was missed.
Other technical elements seemed to be given great thought, but—like the sound—perhaps were not executed as well as intended. The use of a film screen (Jon Grippe) behind the stage to notate location worked to great effect when incorporating footage and stills of the historical events surrounding Eva Perón. This technique provided a real strength and impressive sort of vastness and tethered those scenes to a more grounded reality. I could believe the actors more, and believe the story they were telling to be biographical. However, in scenes where a simple picture was used, or shoddily edited stills served as the only background, reality formed a more abstract picture. The jumping back and forth between concrete and abstract realities failed to create a solid theatrical device and so left a sort of jarring effect in its wake—was the play meant to exist in a land of reality or was it meant to be overtly theatrical? Another such example of this comes in scene transitions. Aside from being quite lengthy, it was confusing to see some actors handle these transitions, and then have stage hands do others. It is a trite note, perhaps, but the depth of the play was lost every time it was clear a stage hand came on or off to clear the set. Had they been in costume, I might have forgiven the lengthy scene changes.
Costumes (Jaxine Rogers and Jeanne McGuire) themselves were absolutely lovely. Without being overly indicative, they preserved an authentic Argentinian feel, and helped to showcase Eva’s transformation from young girl into classy world icon. There was one particular costume that brought about some concern: Juan Perón’s Mistress’s outfit seemed to evoke a little girl more than adult seductress, and the consequential confusion that followed left myself and my guest curious as to whether she was perhaps Eva’s daughter or some abstract manifestation of her past? Overall, however, I thought costumes were one of the strongest parts of this show. It was a treat to see how costume changes were handled and the complexity of character conveyed with each change. Makeup and wigs worked similarly, and I was grateful for the thought put into the appearance of the cast. Lighting (Peter Mayhew) brought a level of depth and complexity to the stage that worked to great effect. It served to highlight those moments of a more heightened reality, or show more Latin fun, while remaining appropriately somber in those necessary scenes. Mayhew’s ability to sculpt emotional content in scenes merits special laud. Set design (Justin Jenkins) worked in a similar function, providing a strong basis for the story’s unfolding. The use of space was clever and didn’t detract from the acting. Choreography (Rebecca Joy Raboy) functioned similarly, preserving a certain Latin-esque quality and never too much to pull away focus from the story. More cohesion among cast would have been more visually appealing, though I enjoyed the larger dance numbers all the same. “Buenos Aires” and the other tangos gave life to Evita and represented vibrant, lively departures from the heavy political drama of Eva’s life.
The role of Evita presents a complicated, nuances challenge for any actress and I appreciated the obvious effort and work put into the role by Carlson. Her presence on stage demanded attention, and the vocal strength behind her performance resonated. There was a bit of a dysfunction, however, between the perceived sensuality of her role and the way other characters spoke about her. Carlson’s Eva was strong, yes, but was only given a Marilyn Monroe-esque sensuality by the words spoken about her. Was she a “slut” and “bitch” because of her venture into political territory or because of a valid promiscuity? Amber Hansen‘s directing and the performance left this unanswered for me. David Weekes as Juan Perón fulfilled his role as stepping stone to Eva Perón’s rise to fame, and it was interesting to see how his strength as a man seemed to diminish as he accepted Evita into his life as his wife. Vocal quality played to great effect, and his conviction seemed resolute. William Cooper Howell as Che absolutely stole the show. His sort of arrogant swagger and condemning nature made him a strong counterpoint to those others in the show, and his role as narrator worked to great effect. I thought his address to the audience seemed more clearly defined than others (that is, the role of the audience felt purposeful with him) and he controlled the stage with a wonderfully cynical presence.
Despite a draggy length and some discord in the production, I enjoyed the biographical nature of the evening. Whether or not you agree with the actions First Lady Eva Perón took, her life is an absolutely curious entity. The heavy political symbolism (placing Che Guevara as the narrator, for example) and delving into the rich Argentinian culture is a departure from the moralistic theater often seen in Utah, and I was grateful for something new. With some more work on technical elements, it is my personal belief The Egyptian Theater’s Evita could be truly wonderful.