EVITA is a very ambitious blonde at SD Rep

Politics hasn’t really changed all that much since the Peron’s time in the 1940’s – there are still the schemers, the authoritarians, and those who have a magnetic personality and the strategy to climb the ladder to get where and what they want no matter the cost. Plus, this couldn’t be timelier as we contemplate an ambitious blonde who has become a polarizing figure and the impact they may have on the future of government.  Evita, the woman, the myth, the legend, and the title character embodies all of this and more in the San Diego Repertory Theatre’s production of EVITA playing through August 27th.

Marisa Matthews as Eva Perón in San Diego Rep’s “Evita.”

While this show has never been the kindest portrayal of Evita’s accession to power, in past productions she has been portrayed as something a bit deeper and softer than this productions choice of direct and brazen.

As Evita, Marisa Matthews eschews subtlety and vacillates between being feisty and ambitious to blatant and unrelenting. This inconsistency makes it hard to believe that someone who never learns a little refinement could maneuver and manipulate her way up the ladder of the officers and into a power player position. Matthews has a lovely voice, and shines in “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” where she can bring an element of simplicity to the role.

Jeffrey Ricca as Che in San Diego Rep’s “Evita.”

Jeffrey Riccas, as Che is a more contemplative firebrand and narrator and he brings an appealing voice and brings a welcome sense of humor to the role. Jason Maddy brings ambition and a military focus to the role of Peron that explains both the characters drive and sense of strategy his partner Eva lacks. Victor Chan rounds out the main cast nicely as the vocally talented, if not upwardly mobile Magaldi.

This production is presented in association with the San Diego School of Creative and performing Arts, which means there are a lot of talented teens both on the stage and in the orchestra for this show.

A stand out performer from SDSCPA is Mikaela Celeste, as Peron’s teenage mistress who gets ousted by Eva. Her number “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” is a stellar number, with her lovely voice and vulnerability shining through. The staging is also excellent as shadowy male figures in doorways sing “You’ll get by, you always have before” underscoring the fact that this woman’s (and Evita’s) life, choices, and opportunities are dependent on the largesse of the men around her.

The second act also offers a beautiful moment from Viviana Peji with “Santa Evita”, sung with sweetness and the poise of someone twice her age.

The ensemble shines in this production and brings a wonderful energy and harmony to the show.  Some familiar faces that always provide excellent performances are Steve Gunderson and Kurt Norby, both as ambitious Argentine officers in “The Art of the Possible” but also as comedic moments in “Rainbow Tour.”

The use and maneuvering of the ensemble allows for some creative choreography by Javier Velasco and is excellent in numbers like “Peron’s Latest Flame” where dueling groups of aristocrats and soldiers voice their displeasure at Eva’s appearance on the scene.  As well as a lovely tango by Hanz Enyeart and Michelle Camaya during pivotal Eva and Peron scenes.

Hanz Enyeart and Michelle Camaya in San Diego Rep’s “Evita.”

Some wonderful faces to see on stage again where Sky Frank and Christopher Lopez, both students of SDSCPA and both contestants in the Ben Vereen Awards this past year!

Directed by Sam Woodhouse, this play runs a tight timeline and is always moving. He makes some interesting choices with the characters, including leaving Evita alone as she performs “You Must Love Me” which makes her character motivations here feel different than they may have been before.

This all plays out on a gorgeous multi-level set by Sean Fanning which allows for multiple projections of the historical Eva and Juan Peron to appear throughout the show as designed by Blake McCarty. All of this is enhanced by David Lee Cuthbert’s lighting.

Overall this production, like any political election cycle, will inspire strong feelings.

EVITA is playing at the San Diego repertory theatre through August 27th.   For tickets and show times go to www.SDRep.org or call 619-544-1000

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