There's something haunting and unforgettable about "Evita," the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Tony Award-winning musical. It's a rags-to-riches story with an unhappy ending. It is also a historically accurate — if ambivalent — retelling of the story of a political icon that irrevocably changed Argentina's history in the late 1940s.
It also has terrific music — a rich fusion of Latin, pop and jazz influences.
Camelot Theatre Company's production of "Evita," directed by Artistic Director Livia Genise, has the energy, the powerful music and the assertive choreography that "Evita" demands. It also has classically trained vocal talents as its leads. If there are some visual miscues here, they fade in comparison to the effect of the whole. This is an "Evita" equal to any big-city revival of the show.
Rebecca K. Campbell as Eva certainly has the voice for Webber's technically complex score. "Evita" is, in fact, an opera, and Campbell is a true opera diva in the best sense. The challenge here is that Campbell is playing a young, lithe and brittle heroine in her early 20s, as Brian M. O'Connor's evocative historical video projections make clear. Campbell does not embody the calculating coquetry of the young Eva or the fragile health of the dying one.
It is an interesting trade-off — superb voice for physical verisimilitude. I go with the voice.
Bob Jackson Miner does a fine job as Peron, both vocally and dramatically. In Rice's libretto, Peron never comes off as a strong dictator, even in his confrontations with the military. Genise has Miner show more strength than the script offers and it's a nice change.
The standout of this production is Erik Connolly as Che, the commentator on the action. Connolly's clear, strong voice and forceful acting has all the anger and irony that the character requires, and Genise moves his catlike presence around the stage with aplomb.
Genevieve Andreaessen provided the fine choreography with assistance from Campbell. Mark Reppert is the musical director and part of the excellent five-piece, off-stage orchestra with Lori Calhoun, Karl Iverson, Jesus Mendoza and Steve Sutfin.
Eva Duarte Peron started out as a poor child in an Argentine provincial city. Blessed with canny intelligence and sensuality, if not real beauty, she arrived in the capital, Buenos Aires, via a sexual liaison with a touring second-rate tango singer.
"Evita" wryly chronicles her rise to stardom as a model, a film actress and a national radio personality in the production number, "Good Night and Thank You," a quick montage of the lovers Eva used and discarded on her way up.
Rather than being kept and discarded by one wealthy man then another, like Juan Peron's teenage mistress in the big production number of "Another Suitcase in Another Hall," Eva was calculating enough to always get jobs with visibility and influence in return for her sexual favors. By the time she hooked up with Juan Peron, a rising star in Argentina's military government, both were, indeed, useful for one another ("I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You").
Peron was elected Argentina's president in 1946 and Eva Peron championed the rights of Argentina's disenfranchised lower classes. She founded a female political party, got women the vote and created a foundation which built housing and provided medical services for the poor. But it is also true that she and Peron skimmed an awful lot of money from the country's treasury and from that foundation.
Eva Peron became a national icon and Argentina's image throughout most of the world before her death from cancer in 1952 at age 33. Argentina's present leader and first female elected president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has said Argentina's women "owe a debt to Eva for her example of passion and combativeness."
"Evita" plays at Camelot through Nov. 17. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets can be purchased in person at the box office Monday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and one hour before performances; by phone at 541-535-5250; or online at www.camelottheatre.org.
Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.