By Dee Jae Cox
“I have one thing that counts, and that is my heart; it burns in my soul, it aches in my flesh, and it ignites my nerves: that is my love for the people and Peron.” Eva Peron
History is rarely reflected with complete accuracy and substance. Tales and stories become distorted through individual experience and perspective, which are always subjective. Eva Duarte Peron, the First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952 was an enigma wrapped in the veil of politics and viewed through the eyes of those who swore she straddled the fence between Sinner and Saint, often falling to one side or the other.
In celebration of their 20th Anniversary The Palm Canyon Theatre presents a top quality production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Tony Award winning musical, ‘Evita.’ The show depicts the life of the legendary Eva Peron and features the incomparable SE Layne in the lead role of Eva. Layne’s operatic voice is breathtaking as she belts out classics such as “I’ll Be Surprisingly Good for You,” and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” She owns the stage as she embodies the character in a role that she was destined to perform.
Webber and Rice’s lyrics and storyline of the musical are based on Mary Main’s biography, Evita; The Woman with the Whip, which drew heavily upon the accounts of anti-Perónist Argentines. This bias is obvious in the script, which boils Peron’s life down to a poor girl using her feminine wiles in order to secure love and seduce her way to power. Whether she was a devil or an angel, even a casual look at Peron’s biography would reveal a seriously complex woman whose drive and courage allowed her to take on class and gender issues on a national scale. Peron fought for women’s suffrage and equal rights. She worked with labor unions to obtain fair wages and decent work hours for Argentine’s citizens and she aspired to be her country’s first female Vice President. As is frequently common with women’s political ambitions, her successes and failures were often used as weapons. She was loved by the poor and hated by the rich and was rarely seen through an unobstructed lens, but she was so much more than a portrayal of a poor girl seducing her way to the top.
Jake Samples, does an exceptional job in his performance as ‘Chi’, a fictional character who is the story’s narrator and a reflection of Peron’s opposition. In the midst of the adoring crowds, he gives the adversarial perspective and personifies the conflict that Peron faced. One of my favorite scenes was the duet “A Waltz for Eva and Chi.” Derik Shopinski’s choreography was perfectly synchronized with Michael Hadley’s direction and the visual of Peron and Chi engaged in a mirrored waltz without ever touching, was collaboration at its best. Layne and Samples shared a chemistry in their portrayal of these characters that can most often only be glimpsed by true opposites who are in a battle for their own truth.
Megan Ramirez, as Juan Peron’s (Luke Rainey) mistress and her rendition of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” brought tears to my eyes. It was truly a standout performance and made me wish that I could hit the rewind button in order to enjoy it again.
Regardless of the production, The Palm Canyon Theatre always manages to pull together an amazing ensemble cast and ‘Evita’ is no exception. Professional dancers and singers with a capitol ‘P’ for pleasure and perfection. J.W. Layne’s lighting design was especially notable due to how much it enhanced this production. The shadows dancing against the walls of the set provided an element of depth that was subtle, yet impactful. The live musical accompaniment under the direction of Steven Smith weaved together the tapestry for a magical night of theater.
Evita, is targeted for a more mature audience. The subject is engaging and thought provoking and reminds the audience of what this collaborative art known as theater, is all about. ‘Evita’ is currently in production through March 5th, at the Palm Canyon Theatre, located at 538 North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs.
For Reservations: Box Office: 760.323.5123 – www.palmcanyontheatre.org
Dee Jae Cox is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director of The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project.