By Sheila Barth
BOX INFO: Under two-hour, two-act, multimedia musical production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1980 multi-Tony Award winner and others, appearing through October 8: Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; matinees, Wednesday, Saturday Sunday, 2 p.m. Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly. $57-$82; kids 18-under, 50 percent discount. nsmt.org, 978-232-7200.
While dynamic, dying, populist First Lady Eva Peron sings to the masses,”Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” members of Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre audiences stifled tears, identifying with the grieving masses who deified the beautiful performer-turned-political leader.
Renowned director-choreographer Nick Kenkel, along with music director Mark Hartman and his marvelous musicians; lighting director Jose Santiago; sound designer Don Hanna; and scenic designer Bert Scott’s ingenious use of authentic news coverage flashed on three large screens, highlight Evita’s life, from 1934 to1952.The play accurately traces her meager beginnings, to her rise to international glory and the masses’ deification of her.
The entire cast is outstanding, headlined by Broadway performers Briana Carlson-Goodman in the title role, who seemingly has channeled the beautiful, young, ambitious entertainer, from the time she was 15, dropped out of school, moved to Buenos Aires, and manipulated men in her ascension to the top. During her reign, 1945-1952, with her marriage to older, widower-military colonel-political leader, Peron. Eva Peron instituted incredible reforms for the downtrodden, building schools, hospitals, health care for the elderly. Leading women’s suffrage, she successfully achieved the vote for women. And she ardently supported workmen’s unions, improving their lots and raising their earnings.
Portraying narrator Che Guevara, Marxist revolutionary, versatile Broadway actor-American Idol finalist, Constantine Maroulis’s voice and emotions soar. He mingles among the crowd, chatting, making eye contact. John Cudia is masterful as Peron, fighting with his military leaders about his beloved Evita and her place in Argentina’s government, yet devoted in his love for her.
A set off-stage, nestled among the audience, creates an intimate setting for cafe entertainer Magaldi (Nick Adams), during his performances. The theater-in-the-round envelops, embraces audiences, making them active participants in the exquisitely-performed and staged production, so it’s impossible to not share the cast’s portrayal of the Argentinian populace’s conflicting adoration and bitter resentment of military leaders against Eva Peron.
The opening scene is somber. Mourners stand nearby, garbed in black, clinging to each other. They enter the stage walking, hand-in-hand.
A happy mother, father and young daughter listen to the radio on center stage, dancing, laughing, affectionately, hugging each other. They’re swiftly, jolted into despair, with the announcement of Evita Peron’s death at age 33. A decorated, black coffin bears the corpse of the beloved “saint” of the masses and the poor. People file by, and the little girl leaves a single rose for her idol.
Incorporating Christopher Oram’s original costumes, coordinator Paula Peasley-Ninestein designer and hair and wig designer Gerard Kelley historically and artfully recreate Peron’s era and her meteoric metamorphosis, from sexy teen-ager to a wealthy, sophisticated First Lady.
When Goodman sings “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” “You Must Love Me,” to her husband, Peron, and her final “Lament,” her heartfelt words emanate from her soul.Goodman also captures Evita’s naughtiness in her early years, her resentment to the wealthy, who spurned her, and the military who hated her. she also captures Eva’s genuine desire to uplift and improve the lives of Argentina’s “los descamisados,” the poor, or “shirtless” workers, union members, and families.
During Evita’s “Rainbow Tour,” where she sought European countries’ support and recognition, she won over France, Switzerland, and Spain in song “Rainbow High,” while meeting their leaders and the Pope. But the Italians called her a whore. We watch her falter, her health fail, but her spirit is unwavering.
Mirroring Evita’s life, the play ends abruptly.
Keep your eye out for Winthrop’s Haven Pereira, 13, who’s sharing the role of The Child with Isabella Carroll of Lynnfield.