“Evita” turns on the charm, but does it work?

752
Gaby Albo is being held up in the air by two people and the rest of the cast is around her.
Evita: Gaby Albo and the ensemble (Photo by John Posada)
Jones is standing in front of two other people with his right arm in the air and making a fist.
Evita: Remember Jones (center) and members of the ensemble. (Photo by John Posada)

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1978 musical Evita returns to New Jersey at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal. Evita, the second big musical based on a concept album to come from Lloyd Webber and Rice, followed the imaginative and successful Jesus Christ Superstar in the newly opening field of rock opera. While there are many elements of Evita to enjoy, this production falls slightly short.

Evita, narrated by Che (Remember Jones), a radical firebrand, tells of the rise and fall of Eva Duarte Peron (Gaby Albo). Evita, an illegitimate lower-class Argentinian girl, comes to Buenos Aires dreaming of show business fame. She sleeps her way up the ladder of success, becoming a radio and movie personality, until her fateful meeting with Colonel Juan Peron (Samuel Druhora) at a charity event. The two join forces romantically and politically, leading to Peron’s election to the Presidency despite opposition to her from the upper classes and some in the military.

Evita is sent on a publicity tour of Europe, but the tour is not as successful as the Perons had hoped. Evita then creates a charitable foundation, but the charity is more like a lottery where a few lucky souls win big while the Perons skim funds for themselves. Faced with worsening conditions in Argentina, Evita decides to become her husband’s political running mate but is forced to abandon that plan.

Remember Jones’ performance as Che is a revelation to those who know him only as a singer/songwriter. He shows solid acting ability as he relates and comments upon Evita’s story, grounding the flashy fantasy of the Perons in the truth behind their rise to power. Samuel Druhora shows Juan Peron as more multi-faceted a character than one might think. His Peron is ambitious yet with a desire to settle into a play-it-safe comfort zone. Surprisingly, based on his occupation and the male-centric Latin American society of the time, he relies on his wife’s career advice and comes to trust her sense of public opinion and celebrity, and in the end, shows how deeply he loves her. Jorge Echeverria mines comedy as Agustin Magaldi, a small-time tango singer who is the first step in Evita’s rise to fame. 

I also wish to give a shout-out to the members of the ensemble, many of whom are either college students or recent graduates, and some of them making their professional debuts in this production of Evita. They performed as well as, if not better than, many more-seasoned ensembles I have seen this season. In particular, in the small role of Peron’s Mistress, Madison Figueroa, a Rider University senior making her professional debut in this production, gave a stunning performance of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, a tango-infused lament of romantic rejection. Ms. Figueroa is a talent I will be watching for in the future. 

Gaby Albo’s performance as Evita, while dramatically acceptable, falls down in the singing. Her upper register easily handles the score but her lower register is weak. This is most noticeable in Evita’s first big number, “Buenos Aires”, which calls for strength from a singer’s full vocal range.

Another big minus in this production is technical. At the performance I attended, for most of the first act, there were no spotlights on the main cast members during their numbers. I find it difficult to believe that this was a deliberate choice on the part of the creative team, especially when the lighting effects combined with the scenery made for very good visual representations of the story’s action.

All in all, there are many reasons one should see this production of Evita, during its run at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center — the scenic design, the costumes, the ensemble, and the performances of Remember Jones, Samuel Druhora, and Madison Figueroa among them. If you are already a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s work, especially his earlier shows with Tim Rice, or if this is a show that you’ve heard about but never have seen, then this show is for you. Get caught up in the glamor and the sordidness that is the story of Evita!

Evita is presented by the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal through June 16, 2024. For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to axelrodartscenter.com or call 732-531-9106.

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. 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.