The Rapidian

Evita opens summer season at Circle Theatre with spectacularly entertaining performance

With a dazzling display of dancing, singing and great costumes, the actors and crew of "Evita" provide an entertaining and thought-provoking experience- but one that should be taken in with a critical eye on historical accuracy.

/Bryan Esler, courtesy of Circle Theatre

/Bryan Esler, courtesy of Circle Theatre

Thursday’s opening of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s "Evita" opened the summer season at the Circle Theatre. With almost a full house in an extremely intimate setting, the night provided everything "Evita" could have promised. The rock opera follows the mythic meteoric rise to stardom of Argentina’s darling Evita Perón

With a dazzling display of dancing, singing and great costumes "Evita," if viewed with a critical eye, is an entertaining and thought-provoking experience.

Right from the start, the warm setting of the Circle Theatre made the audience feel as if they were inside a matted postcard from the 1950’s. Minimal backdrops and few costume changes helped showcase the immense talent of the actors and actresses on stage. Derek Call, playing our narrator, delivered an impressive performance with his energetic personality and ability to grab ahold of the audience’s attention.

“It was hilarious watching Call go from marching with the military men, to pooh-poohing across the stage with the aristocracy, to blending in with the cheers for Evita from the enamored crowd,” remarked Kiersten Quilliams after the show.

The showstopping performance came towards the end of the first half when (Joni Mitchell-esque) Maris Wimmer, playing Juan Perón's just dumped mistress performed, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.” It was the most exposed moment of the evening, and left the audience longing for more intimacy.

Jolene Frankey did a wonderful job playing an arrogantly cocksured and devious Evita Perón. Her stubbornness and general negative portrayal, undoubtedly, stem from Mary Main’s enduring work, "The Woman with the Whip." This mythic Evita comes from humble origins and uses her sexual prowess and deception to work her way to the top of Argentina’s political life. The chip on her shoulder from an unsavory early life make her a vindictive character. Frankey has some incredibly touching moments when the character Evita lets down her spitefully armored shell and shows us her humanity.

Overall, the acting was superb, the singing was great and the stage movements were exciting. The end of the evening, however, left me with an uneasy feeling that something was just not quite right about it all. 

I raced home and began exploring the history of the play. What I discovered, did not surprise me all that much. The play is based largely on Mary Main’s oft-contested book, "The Woman with the Whip," which has in subsequent years, proven to be greatly mistaken in factual accuracy and in its portrayal of Evita Perón. Marysa Navarro writes in the "Canadian Association of Latin American and Caribbean Studies" that “The mythical discourse on Evita pretends to be historically true and is all too often mistaken for history though it is largely fiction.” I urge all viewers of this play to do the same: dive into a bit of research to better understand how this piece of pop culture inevitably fails history and ultimately serves to promote class divisions.

In the end, director Robert Karel and his cast deliver a spectacularly entertaining performance of this less than accurate play. I recommend it to all who wish to bring a critical eye and do humanity’s homework to better understand history and its many obfuscations.

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