A replica of Eva Peron’s famous strapless Dior gown, somewhere between a Maiden of Steel and a fairytale princess gown, hung from a neon-framed stage. Like a mummified three-dimensional diorama, the white jeweled dress took on a life of its own, its bodice both unsettling and beckoning, warning the viewer: look but don’t touch.
This riveting picture, heralding an evening of highly stylized art and mixed messages, is the perfect introduction to the spectacular “Evita,” now at ART’s Loeb Theatre. Its production values – from the exquisite costumes, choreography, set design and lighting to the orchestral and cast talent — cannot be overstated. Luckily, against the norm, the most high-profile theater nights on the Boston scene are in town, and they’re long (through July 30), so there’s plenty of time to grab a ticket and enjoy.
When the scrim is lifted and the real show begins, the visuals only get better. Silhouetted men and women in ornate haute couture hats and heels burst into singing and dancing against the background, as if a painting comes to life. The cinematic magic is thrilling.
The storyline is told in vignettes about Eva Duarte Perón and her rise from poverty in rural Argentina to ruling first lady and beloved titular patron saint. Eva’s journey is complex and full of contradictions. She brazenly sleeps her way to the top, relentlessly trampling anyone who gets in her way, all while standing up for the poor, the disenfranchised, and the ordinary working class. Greedy personal ambition and raw “mean girl”, she also cares deeply about her beloved country and people.
The critical observer and cynical Che (the brilliant Omar Lopez-Cepero) recounts the legend, filling the fairytale with unflattering on-the-ground coverage. In his antithetical version, Eva’s deception and cocky greed overshadow her legacy of charm and kindness.
Shereen Pimental stars as the legendary Eva, who wows audiences with her vocal range and regal presence. Every moment she’s onstage commands attention, whether as an innocent 15-year-old looking for an acting breakthrough or as a brash, bejeweled fashion dictator who bullies anyone who doesn’t kowtow to her. We may be conflicted about her, but we also can’t take our eyes off her.
With Sammi Cannold’s shrewd direction, Emily Maltby and Valeria Solomonoff’s brisk, authentic tango choreography, and stellar performances by Pimentel and Lopez-Cepero, it’s almost possible to overlook the evening’s main shortcoming—namely, the play itself, which was more incoherently abstract than Linear storytelling. Derived from composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice’s 1976 concept album, the musical lacks character development and plot and is chock-full of jarring, lengthy operatic numbers (many of which are overblown and difficult to decipher). With the exception of “Argentina, Don’t Cry For Me,” the songs are mixed together, leaving no choral passages on loop in people’s memory banks after the show. However, “Evita” does not mean traditional drama. Like its name, it’s all about splashes, flashes, smoke and mirrors, from the moment the audience gazes at the hanging disembodied gowns until the orchestra strikes the final note, ART’s production is a play for all the senses. An irrefutable feast. Highly recommend to anyone looking for an evening of purely epic entertainment.
- “Evita” Lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Sammy Cannold directs. Presented jointly by the American Repertory Theater and the Shakespeare Company, 64 Brato British stone., Harvard Square. Until July 30th.