A reimagined “Evita” retains all its power and glamor

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Gabriella Enriquez as Evita standing in front of microphones with her arms in the air
Gabriella Enriquez as Eva Peron in “Evita” at Bucks County Playhouse through October 30. Photo by Joan Marcus.

A powerful picture of Argentinian life in the ’40s and ’50s

The cast of “Evita” all on stage
The cast of “Evita” at Bucks County Playhouse through October 30. Photo by Joan Marcus.

“What’s new, Buenos Aires?” sings Eva Duarte on her arrival in the Argentinian capital.  The Bucks County Playhouse responds with its new Evita, the Tony Award® winning 1979 musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. For this production, the setting is in a basement bar/tango palace somewhere in Buenos Aires, and while you may think it an unusual choice, there are good reasons for it.

It’s 1962. Eva Perón has been dead since 1952, and her husband Juan was ousted shortly after. The new regime has made anything, even the public mention of their names, illegal. The tango, elevated to the status of folk art by the Peróns, has now been deemed “gutter art,” with public performances forbidden.

Yet, a ragtag group of Perónistas meets clandestinely to dance and to retell the story of the Peróns. Eva Duarte Perón’s spectacular rise to power and her decline are acted out by the patrons. Three of them assume the roles of Eva (Gabriella Enriquez), Juan (Eric Ulloa), and as narrator and Greek chorus, Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Pablo Torres).

The cast, directed by Will Pomerantz with choreography by Marcos Santana, paints a broad, powerful picture of Argentinian life in the ’40s and ’50s. Lloyd Webber and Rice’s score retains all its beauty and is delivered with appropriate force by the ensemble. Ulloa portrays the ambition and doubtfulness of Juan Perón as he rises through the military to take political power. Enriquez’s Evita shows her own gritty determination underneath the role of her husband’s biggest booster and most important PR tool. She hides a core of steel within her glamorous image and “woman of the people” persona. But the performance that impressed me most was Torres’ portrayal of Che, not as the hardened revolutionary portrayed in the original Broadway production, but as the college student and civil rights protester he was during the Perón era. This portrayal imbues Che with youthful innocence, making him seem less like the omniscient narrator seen in other productions.

Gabriella Enriquez and cast in “Evita” on stage
Gabriella Enriquez and cast in “Evita” at Bucks County Playhouse through October 30. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The multi-level barroom set, the work of Anna Louizos as lit by Mike Billings, is put to its fullest use. The sound design by Charles Coes is as close to a perfect blend of singers and on-stage/backstage orchestra as I’ve heard in a while. Michael McDonald’s outstanding costumes run the gamut from peasant workers’ garb to Evita’s glamorous gowns as First Lady of Argentina.

Evita has never been, and is not now, a light-hearted musical with a happy ending. What it is, especially in this thoughtful resetting, is a modern fable of power, ambition, and corruption.  Bucks County Playhouse, whose past two productions were the splashy Kinky Boots and the nostalgic confection Dames at Sea, is praiseworthy in presenting this powerful musical drama to its audiences.  I strongly urge you to make the trip to New Hope to see this production of Evita!

Evita is presented by the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA, through October 30th.  For more information or to purchase tickets, call 215-862-2121 or visit bcptheater.org.  The theatre strongly recommends but does not require the wearing of masks in the building.

Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first live play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. He works in the box office at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.