Mounting Evita on a small stage proves no mean trick in this current revival at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theater, now extended through September 2. Set in a working-class bar, where tango and sweat mix with hunger and booze, the story implodes with the power of insurgency.
In director Will Pomerantz’s brilliant revisioning of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic, the musical is framed as a play within a play. Set in 1962, men and women of the Peronista movement gather to perform the story of Eva Peron’s rise and fall. The audience views the real time events that unfold from this historical perspective.
Portraying the revolutionary leader as a leering, cynical commentator on Argentina’s political scene under Peron’s rule, Trent Saunders mines the satire of the musical. In an inspiring performance — more resonant with Joel Grey’s Emcee in Cabaret than Ricky Martin’s Che in the 2012 Broadway revival — Saunders carries the show with magnetic energy.
Lithe, with a puppet-like quality, his physicality is more comic than romantic, which is a more traditional way to play the role. But this revival is not about spellbinding romance. Nor is it the Argentinian Camelot, as it sometimes comes across. Here the romance has already died, and the greed and dishonesty of Peron’s fascist rule sparks a revolutionary spirit.
The familiar lyrics ring true to our time: Instead of government we had a stage/Instead of ideas, a prima donna’s rage/Instead of help we were given a crowd/She didn’t say much, but she said it loud. Clearly, this production captures the pulse of Webber’s musical, as well as our own current political scene, quite a bit differently from other productions.
In the titular role, famously portrayed on stage by Patti LuPone and on screen by Madonna, Arianna Rosario stands on her own. With a robust voice that is also smooth and silky, Rosario makes for a sympathetic, albeit fallible Evita. In Lindsay Davis’s costumes, she emerges as the jewel in a grey world.
Portraying her husband, Juan Peron, Omar Lopez-Cepero has a strong presence and just the right vocal nuances. Still, the character to whom Eva reveals herself most intimately is the Child, played here with wonderful aplomb by Dakota Quackenbush. While Eva Peron is portrayed as duplicitous, the Child is our two-way mirror, revealing both Eva’s vulnerability and the fragile life of the masses.
That her big numbers, typically staged at the President’s mansion, Casa Rosada, are played on the balcony of the bar, a bed, and most importantly, among the people, brings warmth to the production without sentimentality. To that end, Anna Louizos’s scenic design is remarkably innovative.
The music (supervised by Aaron Jodoin) performed live, with piano, guitar, accordion, and trumpet makes the atmosphere of this working-class bar come to life, much as it would in the Buenos Aires of its day. And Marcos Santana’s muscular choreography resonates with the pulse of the story.
Staged, not as a grand romance, this Evita rings with urgency and immediacy. A rousing production.