Seeing the recently presented stage show Evita in Nashville was a fascinating experience on at least two levels, one for the experience of watching a full stage production by a local theater company who were hosts to the Broadway principals; and secondly for a chance to delve into the personality of the title character. Rarely has a show like Evita been taken over so completely and expertly as this one, with Studio Tenn in cooperation with TPAC providing the set, costumes, and ensemble. To my rather critical eye, having for several years in the long ago past being involved in theater work as Executive Director of the Hendersonville Arts Council, all aspects of the production were professionally, even beautifully handled. From the impressive architectural backdrop that represented some sort of public building with a suggestion of old world Spain, to the appropriate costumes, and even one particularly spectacular gown worn by Eden Espinosa, who portrayed Evita, the locals held up their end extremely well. Still, for me, what kept me engrossed was the historical woman herself as depicted by lyricist Tim Rice and the memorable music of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Eva Peron’s story is a mixture of raw ambition, determination, cleverness, and deceit, motivated only partly by greed. After seeing the show, really an operetta with the dialogue sung in recitative fashion, I was driven to Wikipedia for further information. I’m old enough to remember the real Evita, but this production stimulated my interest in her background as well as her connection to Che Gueverra played by Ben Crawford, who as narrator gave a masterful performance, being on stage for nearly the entire two and a half hours. As it turned out from my further investigation, Evita and Che were connected only in a limited way in real life. Che, the scion of a prominent family, was a highly educated revolutionary who was destined to die in another South American country. Evita, on the other hand, would have been beneath his contempt, both because of her illegitimate birth, and her lack of that idealism that informed his own misguided life. As a matter of fact, her low estate kept her from achieving any access to the aristocrats of Argentina, no matter how high she ascended in politics.
Early on, making her way on the stage she attracted attention by her beauty and a voice interesting enough to get her radio spots as well. Her life would have been a hard one as she fought to lift herself from the gutter and achieve some sort of fame. But it was when an older man who had just been involved in a military coup to take over the government saw her that her life changed dramatically. Juan Peron was forty-eight, exactly double of Eva’s twenty-four years when he threw out his current mistress and took in the aspiring young woman. Soon she became his wife, having ideas of her own on how to win over the hearts of the populace.
As any writer of biographies knows, trying to wrap a sympathetic story around a character of low morals, unseemly ambition, and a rapacious love of money makes for difficulties. The librettist of Evita had his work cut out for him, but as we watched Eva Peron’s life unfold, as she gathered the desperate poor around her and through it all revealed her need to be accepted and loved, we could feel a sneaking sympathy for the woman. Her interest in raising the status of women, even going so far as to institute a women’s political party, was a hallmark of their administration. She and Juan, at the height of their power in Argentina took what they termed a “Rainbow Tour” of Europe, obviously expecting to be touted for their great achievements, whatever they might be. In Spain, the dream of adulation came true for Evita as crowds hailed them wherever they went. In Italy, a rather mixed reception awaited them, as was true in France. But in Switzerland, they were pelted with tomatoes and even rocks, using their sojourn there to open several bank accounts in their individual names. King George of England refused to receive them, and so they returned to Argentina a bit chastened. Shortly thereafter, Evita took ill and died at the age of thirty-four from cervical cancer. Her death was mourned by the common people, especially the women, whom she had drawn to her in life as if she were a saint.
Saintly she was not, for after the Peron government fell, the once prosperous country was left in an abysmal condition, raped by the greed of Juan and the ever demanding Evita. Nonetheless, she was a force to be remembered and examined, a task successfully accomplished in this production.