Eva Peron lived a shooting-star life -- brief, fiery, magical. Born illegitimate and poor, the future goddess snaked out of her small Argentinean town at age 15 and slept her way to Buenos Aires, where by the age of 27 she'd become president Juan Peron's wife and the most powerful woman in the country. She died at 33, a virtual saint among her people.
So here's the question of the day: If Peron's life was so extraordinary, so wildly salacious and rippling with the sort of sexual escapades that open the doors to fame and fortune, why is the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical that chronicles her amazing rise such a yawner? Evita is so soporific, in fact, that at the preview performance on July 12, the Theatre Under the Stars presentation prompted several people to slip out of the Wortham before the second act was even half over.
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Part of the problem here is the hand that rocks this cradle. Larry Fuller -- who choreographed several of famed Broadway director Harold Prince's productions, including the 1978 premiere of Evita in London -- does nothing to reawaken this show. Fuller is so familiar with this material he appears to have directed and choreographed the whole thing in his sleep. The dancers muscle through their moves like good soldiers: Marching and leaping, they spill across the stage in what should be an exciting tumble of energy. A lot happens at once. South American generals, dressed in green wool, high-step down center stage while Evita throws back her head and spins across the boards, flirting as she goes; at the same time, a group of peasants shake their hips and kick their heels in a sort of modified merengue. But none of this ever catches fire or feels inspired. Even the satiny couple that tangos along the borderlines of Timothy O'Brien's wide-open set can't manage to stir up any more erotic umph than a pair of wind-up toys.
Valerie Perri struggles to bring Evita's charismatic power to life. Perri, whose dancing skills are impressive, brings no insight or psychological complexity to this enigmatic figure. Eva Peron plotted and conspired and stepped on thousands as she made her way to the top of her world, but she also seems to have been as enchanted as her countrymen by the charm of her own rhetoric. In Perri's Evita, none of this duality is apparent; there is no crushing collision of desires, no exploration of the Machiavellian paradoxes inherent in the accumulation of power. She sobs loud, weepy tears when she breaks down and tosses her head when she's mad, and that's as complicated as this story gets.
runs through Sunday, July 23, at the Wortham Center
Lending support to this endless production -- a three-hour torture that even Juan Peron would have been hard-pressed to imagine -- is Dan Cooney, who makes a tightly wound, moralistic Che, the freedom-fighting narrator who tells the underside of Eva's story as she advances through society, and Martin Vidnovic, whose Juan Peron is smooth, sexy and tender. But neither actor alone can do much to kick this show to its feet.
If you absolutely must see Evita this summer, the film version is available for a couple of bucks at the corner video store.