With music by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, Evita is set to be a triumph for CenterStage Geelong.
The debatably autobiographical musical chronicles the rise of Eva Peron, her untimely demise, and her effect on the Argentine people. While the book it was based on may not take the most favourable view of the real life heroine, the text has inspired a smash hit musical, known for it’s blatant presentation of a positive and negative side of a character, it’s fierce narrator unseen by the other cast, and it’s classic anthem “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”.
Theatre People spoke to the cast of CenterStage’s Evita ahead of their opening night on the 17th of July about the queen of the people, and the men who helped her become the woman we know her as today.
“The show leads the audience to believe that it’s title character is a heroine, but from the very outset, it calls into question whether she actually is,” says Christian Cavallo, who plays Evita’s narrator, Che.
“Che is the representation of the every-man, with ‘Che’ being the word for “mate” or “buddy” in Argentine Spanish. Che is a role I have wanted to play since I saw the movie as a teenager, and it’s unlike any role I have played.”
Breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience, the narrator of the show has a strong opinion of Eva and acts as her opposition.
“We are telling the story of an important female figure that did a lot of good for her country. I just wish I didn’t have to be such an ass about it! Eva Peron, despite having done a lot of good for the people of Argentina, she had many critics. Those critics are embodied in my character.”
Evita the musical takes a scathing look at the men in Eva Peron’s life, and the way she used their influence to climb the social ladder
“The musical portrays that she uses the men she could to help achieve higher social status, but I feel she always stays true to the lower class girl she started out as; never turning her back on the people she came from. It’s unclear if her ambition was always to climb the social ladder, to get to the top and give back to the poor, but the musical (or at least Che) suggests that she is motivated by vanity and a constant need of the public’s adoration. I think that she is shaped mostly by her upbringing in lower class Argentina. She never forgives or accepts the middle and upper classes for her early life experiences, which is what ultimately renders her a controversial leader.”
Brendan Rossbotham, who plays Augustin Magaldi, prominent tango singer and the ‘Seminal voice of Buenos Aires’, sees it simply. Playing the character of Eva’s first lover, he has formed his own opinion of the leading lady.
“Every lover in the musical helped in some way to advance Eva’s social standing and give her more exposure, be that good or bad. (…) Through the eyes of Magaldi, Eva is definitely seen as a master manipulator and social climber. Not only having used him but at the charity event knowing exactly who she was there to snare.”
Throughout the rehearsal period, the cast has constructed a timeline to show the major events in Eva Peron’s life. This has aided in their understanding of the historical events that make up the plot of the show, but has also exposed the long running claims about the musical’s inaccurate portrayal of history.
“There is no historical evidence to state that Eva and Augustin ever met, and by the time of the Charity Event in Buenos Aires (depicted in the musical), Magaldi had been dead some years before hand.”
Despite the autobiographical nature of the musical, the artistic team and cast at CenterStage have been able to create their own interpretation of the show.
“You still however get to create your own take on the character, like any musical of this style, there is artistic license in the material and therefore artistic license in the performance,” says Jon Sebastian, playing Eva’s eventual husband, Juan Peron.
A man of drive and resistance, Juan Peron eventually becomes President of Argentina, with a strong push from his second wife Eva.
“For me though, I’m wanting to show more of his soft side and his love for Eva. Juan is her husband, and he loves and needs her, and she loves and needs him. They are each others vehicles in their respective rises to the top, and could not have done it without each other.”
“I think at the core, Eva knows what she wants and she knows how to get it. Like it or not she acted on this. The testament to the peoples love of her just shows that no matter the path, no matter the intent, with the peoples love comes greatness.”
Above: A promotional image from the show, depicting Eva alongside many of the men who took part in her rise to fame.
Taking part in his first show with CenterStage, Sebastian has had a great experience.
“The production team have a vision and the cast are extremely talented. I must make mention of the ensemble and the work of Tania Spence (Vocal Director). The Evita score and orchestrations are just amazing. I have many moments where I get goosebumps.”
Any article about a show and its leads would be remiss without the take of the leading lady. Eva is a dream role, full of strength and passion, and Sarah Croser was word perfect on the show before auditioning.
“I am honored to be playing Eva Peron. You feel an element of responsibility when playing a real-life figure because you want to represent them truthfully and respectfully through your portrayal,” says Croser.
“You have the opportunity to do so much more research and develop more depth to your portrayal of that character by understanding not only their journey through the piece itself, but fleshing it out with other details based on facts and other life events.”
Eva was no doubt ambitious and passionate, but that should not necessarily be seen as negative. In a time and place where women were incredibly disadvantaged, Eva Peron walked her own path with the men that could help her get to where she wanted to be.
“Eva’s connection to the men she met aided her by providing opportunities for her to do the things she aspired to. I think this is reflective of the era and where women’s liberation was at in the 1930s and 1940s. But, ultimately she shaped her own destiny and was smart about making her own opportunities happen.”
“I don’t think she ‘used’ the men she encountered. I feel that she genuinely wanted to find love and be supported and was in need of a ‘protector’ in life, and she also wanted excitement in her life, so the men she was attracted to were able to provide her with these experiences.”
Who you see Eva Peron as is the question. CenterStage’s production of Evita will show all of her guises: queen of the people, social climber or master manipulator. She was controversial in life, and the musical keeps her that way in death – as always, the masses will choose how they want to see her.
Evita will play at the Geelong Performing Arts Centre from 17th of July until the 1st of August. Tickets can be purchased at this link.