Front Row Reviews

Evita,the musical, spotlights the power of one woman

SF Playhouse and Director Bill English brilliantly orchestrates a large ensemble to showcase the multifaceted life of Argentina’s first lady, Eva Perón.

Creative lighting by Michael Oesch and varied accompanying music directed by David Dobrusky immerse the audience in the 1940s era. The scenic design by Heather Kenyon’s include movable props: stairs, podiums, tables, chairs, and even a wardrobe. The impressive choreography by Nicole Helfer highlights the vivacious personality of Argentine culture.

The ensemble with Evita (Sophia Alawi)

The musical begins at the end of Evita’s life, at her funeral. The music of the song “Oh, What a Circus,” mirrors “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” and sets the atmosphere that hangs over the show. Che and the Company sing:

“What kind of goddess has lived among us?
How will we ever get by without her?
She had her moments–she had some style
The best show in town was the crowd”

Marxist Che Guevara, dynamically portrayed by Alex Rodriguez, is always present on stage—sometimes like a shadow, sometimes at the forefront voicing his criticisms of the forthright Evita, played by the talented Sophia Alawi.

Guevara scrutinizes Evita’s journey. Does she truly serve the poor, or her own image? Is she a narcissist or an altruist? Rodriguez’s voice as Che carries beautifully throughout the musical. At one point, he stands at the very edge of the stage, involving us, as he speaks and scans the audience. There is a sense that he would rather join us, and be with the community than stand with Evita, on the side of Peronism, a military dictatorship.

Evita, born into the working class, that she later titles the “shirtless, is anxious to leave. The talented and diverse ensemble enacts her departure from home, traveling to Buenos Aires with lover suave, lounge singer Magaldi, comedic Jurä Davis . She soon pursues a career in acting, then hosting her own radio show. Now famous, she meets impressionable Colonel Juan Perón, Peter Gregus, and seduces him with the song, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You.” Gergus does well trying hard to figure out the thinking of the complex Evita, and is often left perplexed. Evita upstages his Mistress, Chanel Tilman, who pines her loss with an exceptional voice, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”

Evita becomes First Lady in 1946 at 27, beginning her controversial political life.

While once born from the “shirtless” society, she now adorns herself with Christian Dior fashions, as she sings in “Rainbow High”:

I came from the people, they need to adore me
So Christian Dior me from my head to my toes
I need to be dazzling, I want to be Rainbow High
They must have excitement, and so must I

As First Lady, Evita became a champion for the poor, especially women and women’s suffrage. She founded the Eva Perón Foundation to aid her people, and also gifted money to the “shirtless.” Consequently, they built homes in affluent neighborhoods, reinstating a middle class. Additionally, Evita created a universal healthcare system. A hero to many women, she was honored with the title “Spiritual Leader of the Nation of Argentina” when she died.

However, critics like Che believed her to be a selfish woman who sought power for its own sake. That was the prevailing belief for many years. They argued that she drained Argentina’s cash reserves living a luxurious life style. Yet, at the same time, she gifted money to the poor. As a Robin Hood for the common people, she impacted the culture, the people, and the politics of Argentina. Her perseverance, persistence, and goals filled the front pages of world newspapers, no doubt inspiring women from all over the world.

Today, women’s rights are once again being tested. There is no economic class untouched by the threat.

Experience the vibrant energy of Argentina at SF Playhouse’s “Evita.” Immerse yourself in the music, dance, and a powerful story of one woman’s impact in a time of political, social, and cultural upheaval–much like we witness today.

“Evita” –lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, directed by Bill English, costumes by Abra Berman, sound by James Ard, projections by Sarah Phykitt—at San Francisco Playhouse. – to September 7, 2024.

Cast: Malia Abayon, Sophia Alawi, Christine M. Capsuto-Shulman, Jurä Davis, Chachi Delgado, Gabriella Goldstein, Peter Gregus, César Lino, Catrina Manahan, Dian Sitip Meechai, Deanalis Arocho Resto, Alex Rodriguez, River Bermudez Sanders, Johann Santiago Santos, Nicholas Tabora, and Chanel Tilghman.

Photos by Jessica Palopoli — Banner photo: Sophia Alawi (Evita)