The drama and romance of Eva Peron’s brief life are fully realized in Cambria Center for the Arts Theatre’s current production of “Evita,” the pop opera about the former first lady of Argentina.
Director Randy Schwalbe has gathered a magnificent cast of singers and dancers to reveal the story of the second wife of Juan Peron. While Peron served as Argentina’s president for parts of the 1940s, ’50s and ’70s, his wife, known as Evita, died at an early age in 1952.
Audiences of a certain age may recall seeing Evita Peron’s face on Time magazine’s cover in 1947, following her so-called “Rainbow Tour” to Europe as Argentina’s representative.
The opera includes this trip, during which Evita was well received at times and treated badly at others.
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Those unfamiliar with Argentina’s politics can follow the nation’s history through the opera’s songs.
Juan Peron (Cody Petit), a widower moving up the political ranks, falls in love and marries Evita (Allison King) in spite of her shady background of sleeping her way to minor stardom and the fact she was born out of wedlock. His contemporaries are disgusted by his choice.
But just as Evita grabs the hearts of her fans as an entertainer, she gains unheard-of popularity as the voice of the oppressed.
The main performers in “Evita” physically resemble the characters they portray.
Leading actress dazzles
King is dazzling as Evita, as she makes her way from a teenage performer to a young actress to the wife of the leader of her country, and an advocate for the people.
Her signature song, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” reassures her show business fans of her concern for their country. Although King’s voice is a bit shrill at times, it could be a problem with the stage sound system.
Petit, a Cambria native, convincingly takes on the role of Juan Peron with grace and assurance. In a rare light-hearted moment, he literally plays musical chairs with other military officers while singing “The Art of the Possible,” symbolizing the political struggle to the top.
As Che Guevara, Cuba’s minister at the time, Phil Edwards is a pleasure to behold, his voice pure and powerful and his resemblance to Guevara uncanny.
(Guevara and Peron reportedly conducted some secret meetings, but didn’t see eye to eye.)
Tara Brinkman plays Peron’s unnamed mistress. After Evita gives her the boot, she beautifully sings “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” while packing her bags.
The remaining cast members take on a variety of roles, from officers to aristocrats, waiters and servants.
Other cast members are Mary Alvarado, Wayne Attoe, Jackie Edwards, Tori Ehiers, Randall Lyon, Barbara MacDonough, Sophie MacKinnon, John Riffle and Michael Shanley.
Argentina’s national dance, the tango, adds to the color and romance of the performances. Performing live and off-stage are orchestra musicians Jeff Mar, Mark Pietri and Tom Brown.
At various times during the production, historical photographs appear on a screen behind the actors to show the enormous crowds, military officers and political figures Evita encountered during her life, as well the floral displays of affection after her death at age 33.
Originally conceived as a 1976 concept album, “Evita” premiered on London’s West End in 1978 and on Broadway in 1979. It was first revived in 2006, and returned to Broadway in 2012.
Madonna starred in the 1996 movie adaption of “Evita,” an appropriate choice given that the common people of Argentina idolized Evita Peron as much as they did St. Mary.
It is speculated that the shrewd Evita would have likely encouraged this comparison.
- When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; through Aug. 23
- Where: Cambria Center for the Arts Theatre, 1350 Main St., Cambria
- Tickets: $20, $15 Allied Arts members, $5 students
- Information: (800) 838-3006 or brownpapertickets.com