Eva Perón was a saint, caring deeply for Argentina’s poor and struggling working class.
Eva Perón was a manipulative slut who craved power and cared for no one but herself.
We get both Evas in the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical “Evita,” the season-ender for Arizona Repertory Theatre.
And what a way to end the season.
Director Danny Gurwin has stuffed this big musical into the small Tornabene. We see every drip of sweat, every glance, every loose thread on these actors.
And it works.
A big reason: These UA students, most musical theater majors, sank deeply into their characters and stayed in them when they were on stage. It was key to transporting the audience to Evita’s world, where, as wife of Argentina’s president, Juan Perón, she was adored by the working class, the poor and the disenfranchised.
But not so adored by the character Che, who serves as a one-man Greek chorus, bringing some perspective to this one-time actress who slept her way to the top.
The pop opera opens with the announcement of Evita’s death, and as the crowd wails and mourns, Che weaves about them, singing, “Instead of government we had a stage/Instead of ideas, a prima donna’s rage/Instead of help we were given a crowd/She didn’t say much, but she said it loud.”
Matthew Osvog is a UA musical theater junior. He is blond and innocent-looking. And he gives Che a sneer, a cynical streak, a presence that completely belies any oh-isn’t-he-nice first impression. And Osvog’s voice matches that presence — it is powerful and nuanced. He was hard to turn away from.
But you kinda have to. There are so many others on that stage that display equally impressive talents.
Shira Elena Maas’ Evita is warm and embracing one second, cold and calculating the next. We got why the people loved her, and why the Che character did not.
Alex Gossard’s Juan Perón is steely and tender, and Chandler Corley-Essex frail and broken as Perón’s Mistress, who is quickly thrown out by Eva .
“Evita” hasn’t got great depth, but it is among Webber’s better musicals. Gurwin and this cast of 18 UA students give it the colors and soaring voices it requires to leave an audience happy and on its feet.