Despite being thoroughly tone-deaf and having a distinct lack of knowledge about musical theatre, a Staff Writer spent his Saturday evening in Roone Arledge Auditorium attending Columbia Musical Theatre Society’s production of “Evita.” We bring you his post-play thoughts and feelings below.
Although many might recognize him as the composer of such musical theatre masterpieces as “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats,” Andrew Lloyd Webber composed the equally impressive musical “Evita,” which details the life of Eva Perón, an Argentinian social-climber, turned actress, turned political figure. CMTS, for its big musical of the semester, chose to give the arts community of Columbia a crash course in Argentinian politics of the 1940s by putting on “Evita” in the Roone Arledge Auditorium in a three-show, two-day run.
The performance of “Evita” opens to the sounds of a cinema in Argentina on July 26th, 1952, where it is announced that Eva Perón (played by Skylar Gottlieb, BC ‘16) “entered immortality at 20:25 hours.” This opening leads into a requiem for Eva, appropriately sung in Latin. Immediately following the requiem, our narrator, Ché (Sam Balzac, CC ‘17), launches into song about the grief Argentina feels as a country for Evita, their idol. The story then jumps back through time to 1934, where a 15-year-old Eva is introduced to the audience while in the midst of a love affair with tango singer Agustín Magaldi (Jacob Iglitzin, CC ‘19). After using that affair as leverage to persuade Magaldi to take her to Buenos Aires, Eva cuts ties with him and begins socializing (and sleeping around) to facilitate her social-climbing, working her way to become a model, a radio personality, and an actress. Following a few musical numbers, military and political leader Colonel Juan Perón (Christopher Browner, CC ‘16) is brought into the narrative, and he and Eva meet at a charity concert at which Perón is speaking. Eva, using her considerable powers of persuasion, convinces Perón to leave his mistress (played by Emma Smith, BC ‘19), and Eva and Perón marry before Perón launches his presidential bid, using Eva to organize rallies and garner support for his cause.
Act II begins immediately following the presidential election of 1946, where Perón is elected in a massive victory. Eva takes up her role as the First Lady of Argentina with great enthusiasm, going so far as to tour Europe to promote Peronism and mingle with high society with the excuse that it’s in the best interests of her people. Ultimately, Eva is snubbed in parts of Europe, and she returns home to start the Eva Perón Foundation in order to conduct her charity work. Ché, who during all of this has continued to provide an objective view of events, describes Eva’s work as controversial and verging on money-laundering. It’s at this point that Eva’s health takes a turn for the worse, even as she is determined to find her own place in the political sphere of Argentina by running for vice-president. Eva’s health declines quickly due to her cancer, and in her final moments onstage, she gives one last broadcast of hope to the people of Argentina before her strength fails her. Ché, in the closing of the play, comments to the audience that a monument was meant to be built for Eva but that “only the pedestal was completed, and Eva’s body disappeared for seventeen years.”
Even walking into Roone Arledge Auditorium with next to no personal investment in the show itself or the narrative of Eva Perón, I was blown away by the emotional power of the story and the performance as it was put on by CMTS. Director Mariana Benjamin, BC ‘16, clearly had a challenge on her hands in preparing her cast for this particular musical, given the intensity of performance that the show requires, but she has unquestionably risen to the occasion in leading this group of talented individuals in presenting the story of “Evita.” The dynamic nature of the play was encapsulated in the truly dynamic performances of Eva, Juan Perón, and Ché, and the emotional lows of the show are equally balanced with brief moments of levity and humor in the musical numbers. Having to cover such a wide range of emotions in a musical that’s restricted by the pace and timing of the music could have proven difficult, but from my perspective in the audience, the performers made it seem absolutely effortless.
As for the the technical components of the show, I was thoroughly impressed with the how the (fairly large) Roone stage was put to use. The dance numbers were elaborate, engaging, and visually stunning to watch unfold, and the ensemble’s cohesion during the numbers was flawless. For the music, it’s worthwhile to single out the pit band and conductor for a job well done, since the stellar performance on the part of the band gave the musical life and helped draw the audience even further into the performance and the life of Eva. Although Ché has no interaction with the other two main characters, Eva and Juan Perón, all three actors clearly had remarkable chemistry with each other onstage, visible in their performances and comfort onstage. While I usually make an attempt to distinguish a standout performer for some distinctly excellent quality in their performance, it’s incredibly difficult to make a case for just one performer in “Evita.” Balzac, Gottlieb, and Browner (respectively portraying Ché, Eva, and Juan Perón) all gave such entertaining and vibrant performances, easily going above and beyond that which the show required of them, I simply refuse to name any single individual as standing out; all three were outstanding in their own right.
The final performance of “Evita” is tonight at 8 PM, and I highly recommend going to the TIC to pick up a ticket for the final show. You will undoubtedly walk away with a newfound regard for the intricacies of Argentinian politics, as I certainly have, and as far as the quality of the performance, it’s safe to say that CMTS’s “Evita” is of the highest quality.
Graphic design by Suze Myers