Phenomenal performances by Cassandra Murphy and Marc Ginsburg and some particularly exciting dance sequences highlight Cabrillo Music Theatre’s big-stage revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1979 smash Evita.
One of Broadway’s very first almost entirely “sung-through” musicals, Evita could just as easily have been titled The Rise And Fall Of Eva Perón in its depiction of the life of Argentina’s most famous/infamous First Lady from her late teens to her untimely death at thirty-three.
No spoiler here, as Evita’s opening sequence interrupts a Buenos Aires movie theater audience’s enjoyment of the latest 1952 film hit with the announcement that “the spiritual leader of the nation has entered immortality.”
The charismatic Che (Ginsburg) serves as our guide, escorting us back in time to a small-town night club where local heartthrob Augustín Magaldi (Bill Ledesma) meets a very young, very brunette Eva (Murphy), ready to seduce Magaldi, move to Buenos Aires, and conquer the world.
Bedding man after man after man after man, Eva charts her rise to fame and fortune with a series of lovers, each higher positioned than the one before, becoming bolder and blonder with each new paramour until army colonel Juan Perón (David Kirk Grant) bids adieu to his teen Mistress (Isa Briones), the better to forge his presidential future with Eva by his side.
Before he can ascend to the presidency, however, Perón must first demonstrate “The Art Of The Possible” in a game of musical rocking chairs in which, one by one, his fellow colonels lose their rocker until only the future President is left seated and ready to assume power, his platinum partner by his side.
Evita’s now iconic sequences also include Eva’s on-the-balcony solo “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and its dramatically spoken, not sung, vow to share Argentina’s riches with the penniless; “Perón’s Latest Flame,” featuring goose-stepping Army officers and members of the Argentinean aristocracy in their snootiest “Ascot Gavotte” mode; the rousing “A New Argentina” with its Buenos Aires porteños fists raised high to the sky; and the First Lady’s ill-fated albeit glitteringly-gowned “Rainbow Tour” of Europe.
As for the rest, since it’s news of Eva’s premature death that starts off the show, it’s pretty much a given than any stomach pains suffered by our heroine are likely to be more than mere indigestion from all that foreign food.
Master director Roger Castellano helms Cabrillo’s Evita with assurance, ingenuity, and flair, and he is blessed by a pair of dazzling star turns.
If ever there was a musical to rise and fall on the strength of its leading lady, Evita is that musical, and with Murphy doing revelatory, career-best work, her gutsy, glamorous, gorgeously-sung Evita soars, a performance matched by Ginsburg’s sizzling, seductive, all-around sensational Che.
Not only does Murphy electrify vocally and emote with fire and depth, she shows off some lively legwork in “Buenos Aires,” just one example of choreographer Cheryl Baxter’s transformation of a musical not often thought of as “dancy” into a showcase for not only her leading lady but her terrifically talented ensemble: Elizabeth Adabale, Briones, Liz Bustle, Fernando Christopher, Eduardo Giancarlo, Augusto Guardado, Veronica Gutierrez, Timothy Joshua Hearl, Jackson Hinden, Katie Hume, Brandon Taylor Jones, Ledesma, Lyrissa Leininger, Janelle Lillian, Sarah Marie Maher, Drew Mizell, Alastair James Murden, Tracy Ray Reynolds, Joshua Rivera, Eva understudy Jacqueline Elyse Rosenthal, Katherine Steele, and Kendyl Yokohama.
I’ve seen multiple Evitas, but never can I recall one whose Act Two “And The Money Kept Rolling In” inspired the prolonged cheers as Baxter’s does, anchored by Ginsburg’s electromagnetic Che and supported by a stageful of dance whizzes. As for tango artistes extraordinaires Rivera and Gutierrez, someone please give them the program credit they deserve.
Cast vocals are uniformly splendid under Dr. Cassie Nickols’ expert musical direction, not just lead couple Murphy and Ginsburg but Grant’s towering Perón, a role he was born to play, along with Briones’ Mistress and Ledesma’s Magaldi, both of whom make the very most of their brief moments in the spotlight.
In fact, the only aspect of the Cabrillo revival that falls short is in not having sufficient age diversity in its mostly early-20s ensemble. (The colonels, in particular, look fresh out of military school.)
Costumes provided by The Theatre Company (Beth Glasner receives design credit), are nothing short of spectacular, with more costume quick-changes for Eva than I could possibly count. Kim Killingsworth’s dramatic lighting of the okay set provided by The Music And Theatre Company, Jonathan Burke’s crystal-clear sound design, and Alex Choate’s properties are all terrific as is Dan Redfield’s conducting of The Cabrillo Music Theatre Orchestra.
Child performers Luca de la Peña, Savannah Fischer, Calista Loter, Madison North, Brooke Rassell, Emma Safier, Marcello Silva, and Lilly Victoria Thompson are pintsized charmers.
Jessica R. Aguilar is production stage manager, Jack Allaway is technical director, and Char Brister is crew captain.
You may have seen Evita before (how many musical theater fans can say that they haven’t?), but you’ve never seen it with Cassandra Murphy and Marc Ginsburg as Eva and Che. Their standing ovation they inspire is richly deserved.
Cabrillo Music Theatre, Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Boulevard, Thousand Oaks. www.cabrillomusictheatre.com
October 14, 2016
Photos: Ed Krieger