‘Evita’ doesn’t tell the whole story

By Eric George Tauber

Eric George Tauber

SAN DIEGO — Welcome to Argentina, 1952. Humble laborers meander into a Spanish colonial church representing the country in microcosm. Argentina is a developing nation of backbreaking labor and wealthy elites. When the news breaks that their beloved first lady, Eva Perón has succumbed to cancer, the people cry out for Evita, la santa de los pobres (saint of the poor).

The state propaganda machine had done its job, giving their young and attractive first lady an iconic status to rival Santa Maria herself. One angeliña, a precious Viviana Peji, even prays to Santa Evita with a Santeria candle. Only Che, the dark and cynical narrator, doesn’t share their grief. Played by Jeffrey Ricca, he strides with the grace of a cat and burns with the fires of revolución.

Eva Duarte was the abandoned daughter of a ranchero by his mistress. So she knew her share of hardship. She became a successful actress on radio, but knew that the real rise to power lay in her other charms. Changing lovers like handbags, she caught the eye of Colonel Juan Perón. I loved the juxtaposition of the tango dancers as their chemistry began to smoke. Juan and Eva saw in each other the keys to power. The common people loved her and the soldiers dutifully followed him.

The dance choreography by Javier Velasco was like a South American blanket, intricately woven and bursting with energy. A pair of zoot suited suavecitos light up the dance routines with their smooth style.

Marissa Matthews is a fireball as Evita. Her eyes can sparkle with adoration one moment and shoot flames the next. Selfish and ambitious, she is not one to be crossed. Matthews’ singing voice is lovely, but a little lacking in oompf, getting drowned out in “On that night of a thousand stars.”

Jason Maddy gave a nicely layered performance as Juan Perón. Hungry for power –yet easily manipulated- he knows that he’s getting in over his head. Yet the libretto left out Perón’s darker side. Under his regime, tens of thousands of Argentines who opposed him were arrested and tortured or simply “disappeared.” An outspoken admirer of Hitler and Mussolini, he wanted, in his own words “a fascism that [was] careful to avoid all the errors of Mussolini”.

Evita gained her santa status through the Eva Perón Foundation, a non-profit that built orphanages, hospitals and nursing homes. Donations to this charity were so generous that Evita was able to divert $700 million into overseas accounts, funds that allowed her deposed widower to live out his days in grand style in Franco’s fascist Spain.

Viler still, Evita’s European tour, ostensibly to broker better relations, had a much darker purpose. The Peróns helped many Nazi war criminals including Josef Mengele, Adolph Eichmann and Klaus Barbie immigrate to Argentina under false papers.

“According to records now emerging from Swiss archives and the investigations of Nazi hunters, an unpublicized side of Evita’s world tour was coordinating the network for helping Nazis relocate in Argentina.”

 

Evita is a well-known, highly acclaimed Broadway musical by a living legend. But why Andrew Lloyd Weber would choose to lionize this woman, celebrating her story while glossing over her darkest chapters, I simply don’t know. In the most famous song of Evita, she cants “Don’t cry for me.” Rest assured, fascista, I won’t.

Evita plays on the Lyceum Stage through August 27, 2017. For tickets, go to www.sdrep.org.

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Tauber is a freelance writer specializing in coverage of the arts.  He may be contacted via [email protected]

 

 

 

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