‘Evita’ revival debuts at A.R.T.
Argentina’s legendary first lady Eva Perón has a life story that was always destined for the stage. From an impoverished childhood in the 1920s she found a passionate romance and became one of the most powerful figures in Argentine history, both beloved and reviled. The American Repertory Theater’s staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, “Evita,” explores her complicated history and the woman behind the public persona.
Afro-Latina Broadway performer Shereen Pimentel, who plays Perón in the musical, didn’t know much about the character before this production. Now she’s a Perón expert.
“I was just fascinated by the complexity of the story, of the rich history and everything that [the director] has done to the production to create it as a revival,” says Pimentel. “It’s a wonderful piece in its original, but I found it to be really, really interesting how she was moving it for a new generation to experience.”
Director Sammi Cannold launched the first iteration of this production in 2019 at New York City Center, but has had more time to delve into the material at A.R.T. This “Evita” doesn’t pass judgment on the historical figures, but it does explore the history in a more contemporary context. Perón is often portrayed as a woman who used sexuality to increase her social standing, but if these were not consenting relationships, Perón’s choices take on a different perspective.
Race is also explored here. Perón is associated with white skin and blonde hair, but Pimentel and the other Afro-Latino performers open a wider discussion about the diversity of Latino experiences. “The proximity to whiteness, and the idea of colorism is within many ethnic and racial backgrounds,” says Pimentel. “I think when we put on something like a musical, we do get the opportunity to open up conversations.”
Many Argentine artists, including tango choreographer Valeria Solomonoff, are involved in the work and Cannold has journeyed to Argentina four times to do research on the legacy of Peronism and to portray the cultural context accurately.
Though mammoth histories and complex social issues are explored here, “Evita” is still a big-box musical. Audiences can expect powerful songs, like the famed “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” and authentic Argentine tango dances throughout. The show runs at A.R.T. May17-July 16.
Pimentel says her goal is not to convince audiences of Perón’s goodness or evilness, but to spark interest in her story. “I love the fact that people can all leave with a different opinion about a show,” says Pimentel. “All I really care about is that they have a strong opinion about it, because that’s when I feel like I did my job.”