Review: Evita (Scarborough Music Theatre)

Scarborough Music Theatre’s passionate production of Evita will wow audiences

I was a fresh-faced adolescent with a burgeoning interest in musical theatre when I first encountered this rock opera. Inspired by the content, I went on to participate in a scholastic speech-writing competition with my piece on the rise and death of Eva Perón. Since then, I’ve acquired several cast recordings and my obsession has blossomed, but alas—I’ve only seen one prior staging. So it was with great excitement that I attended Scarborough Music Theatre’s handsome production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical Evita.

Evita tells the story of Eva Duarte de Perón who—poor yet ambitious—rose to fame as a radio star, film actress and became the First Lady of Argentina. It’s a rags to riches story set against a political backdrop. The songs are, of course, iconic—and for good reason: they are catchy, rousing and some are downright haunting.

The character of Evita elicits, in equal measure, both passionate adoration and bitter resentment. The show relies on us believing she is, at her core, sincere in her convictions. To that end, Samantha Ballard, in the title role, is charming and genuine. At key moments, she reveals a certain brutality that sells her fierce ambition and her desire to seek vengeance on a middle class that shamed her as a youth.

To counter the predominantly sympathetic depiction of Evita herself, she is met with contempt from the Argentinian Establishment. The military spews sexist rhetoric about her being worthless in “affairs of state.” (“Her only good parts are between her thighs.” ) The aristocracy dismiss her as a low-class, illegitimately parading herself as one of them. (“We wouldn’t mind seeing her at Harrod’s, but behind the jewelry counter, not in front.”)

Our narrator, Che, cuts through this elitist and diminishing nonsense with his own more grounded and perceptive critique of her as a political figure. He calls her and President Juan Perón out on their less-than-admirable strategies for maintaining their grip on the public. (“How can you claim you’re our saviour when those who oppose you are stepped on, or cut up, or simply disappear?”) In this role, Chris Ning is inherently likable with enough assertiveness to ground him as an impassioned voice of reason.

As Juan Perón’s unceremoniously ousted mistress, Rebecca Field gives a heartfelt rendition of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” (my favourite number!) that sent chills up the spines of my guest and I.

The entire company does polished and compelling work, so it is a shame that some moments fell flat due to sound problems. All too frequently, key vocals were lost under the music. Even when the sound mix properly showcased the voices, they often cut out. I hope these technical glitches work themselves out because the performers are giving it their all.

Director David Wicken has crafted a very energetic and colourful staging. Kristie Woods’ choreography is dynamic and pulled me in without drawing too much attention to itself. I was particularly impressed with her work on “The Art of the Possible.” It’s not one of the more memorable songs because it’s sort of didactic. It’s traditionally staged as a game of musical chairs and often feels plodding, but Woods and Wicken have made it refreshingly dynamic and varied.

This production has opted to include “You Must Love Me,” which is my least favourite song. I absolutely abhor it and don’t even consider it a true and proper Evita number. It was not part of the original stage show, but written specifically for the Madonna film version. I find it unnecessary and cloying.

Scarbourough Music Theatre’s production of Evita feels both spectacular and intimate. I imagine it will, for the most part, appease established fans and foster new ones.

Details:

  • Evita plays until November 18, 2017 at Theatre Scarborough (3600 Kingston Rd.)
  • Performances run November 9, 10, 11, 16, 17 at 8:00 pm with matinees on November 5, 12 and 18 at 2:00 pm.
  • Regular tickets are $30
  • Tickets can be purchased online, by phone 416.267.9292 or in person at the venue.

Photo of Samantha Ballard (and company) by Raph Nogal.

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