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Strange power in ‘Evita’ at Morris Performing Arts Center

| Monday, January 28, 2019

Joseph Han

The Broadway Theater League South Bend has brought big-name shows to the Morris Performing Arts Center for several years. “Evita” is the first of these iconic shows in recent memory to not consistently fill the mezzanine. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s distinct musical style and the tableau-style may be responsible for this. Similar to “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat,” “Evita’s” story unfolds in a series of vignettes without temporal transition and with only very little dialogue. The result is a feeling of breakneck pace in the first act with a sensation of two-dimensionality.

Only the barest plot points could be gleaned during the first act and there was a feeling that the characters were not so much developed as displayed. Yet, the connection persevered between the audience and the show. In general, a lack of development would be seen as a shortcoming, something of an emotional weight left to be desired. In “Evita,” the distance between the audience and the character of Evita herself was in parallel with her status as icon and sweetheart: no one really knew her except maybe Perón, and then the Evita Perón of the public was not the same as Eva Perón, the president’s wife. The vocal performance of Yael Reich as Eva was so beautiful as to be unremarkable in the context of what one might expect from a professional production. Her small movements and expressions, however, visible even from the mezzanine, made her the most sympathetic, rounded character in spite of the aforementioned emotional distance of the show as a whole. The vocal aspect of the performance was led by and shone primarily because of the chorus. Time and time again, the chorus vocals inspired and unnerved, underscoring, at times, the pure and ringing quality of Reich’s voice.

The show proceeded in a rocketing, linear manner, and any possibility of roundness or depth was sacrificed in exchange for an aspect of authority, that because of its choice to distance the audience emotionally, the show’s two-dimensionality states definitively that this story has one purpose above all: give the world Eva in all her parts, not just as “Santa Evita.” This is not to make a quality-statement about three- versus two-dimensionality, only to say that in supplementing the set with projections of past protests and political events, the stage took on a flattened aesthetic. The overall effect of this being that of a documentary or biopic: “This is the story we are telling. This is how she was in life, in death and in memory.” Leaving the theater, members of the audience could be heard expressing their confusion, not at the plot of the show but at why it was they cared so much when they had so little emotional access to the characters. This is a testament, then, to the musical direction and the physicalities of the actors, the only two remaining doorways to connection after pace.

There is also the matter of Che, played by Lance Galgon, a character present in Evita’s childhood, in every place to which she travels, in her mind and at her death and funeral. At first part of the muddling factors of the show, Che’s omnipresence quickly became eerie before eventually feeling somewhat sinister if also necessary. Che served as the audience anchor, as the Greek chorus and as Eva’s lingering memory of anonymity and poverty. Not sure what to think about Eva’s choice to marry Perón or continue to support him in political weakness? That’s okay, Che is here to doubt Eva for you, to her face. One of the strongest moments of the show was, in fact, when Che and Eva dance with one another — a sneering, beautiful dance. Che pushes Eva to interrogate her own choices and, ultimately, to choose the mere hope of the people over her own life. “Evita” was, if a bit strange, a moving tableau of sacrifice and perseverance.

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