Never underestimate the power of pop culture to reframe history and create new heroes.
Case in point—Alexander Hamilton. The founding father and former Secretary of the Treasury was largely forgotten by the public. The government even contemplated finally removing his face from the $10 bill. Then Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a compelling rap musical that became the hottest ticket on Broadway and Hamilton’s posthumous approval ratings skyrocketed.
Four decades earlier, Andrew Lloyd Webber performed the same miracle for former Argentinian first lady Eva Peron, ambitious wife of a leftist dictator who was prematurely struck down by cancer in 1952. Had Lloyd Webber not penned the hit 1978 musical, Peron would have also been just a footnote in history and certainly not a global icon.
The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton opened its production of “Evita” last weekend, the latest company to put its spin on history. According to executive producer Marilynn Wick in her curtain speech, the show was the most requested in last season’s subscriber questionnaire and, judging from the audience, many could have been in the audience at those first packed Broadway performances.
The Wick has carved out a niche with big cast, crowd-pleasing musicals and this production, boasting a cast of more than 30, doesn’t disappoint, thanks to the direction of Norb Joerder, musical director Darren R. Cohen and inventive choreographer Stephen Casey.
Daniella Mass, a Miami resident and semi-finalist on “America’s Got Talent,” takes the balcony of the Argentinian White House, Casa Rosada, with an earnest appeal and crystal clear soprano the soars in Lloyd Webber’s tuneful melodies.
Broadway veteran Sean McDermott is Juan Peron, the steely Army officer who would harness the charisma of his wife to win over millions of peasants on Argentina’s pampas. Young Michael Focas proves to be the brighter star as the everyman narrator Che. The two-time Carbonell nominee is engaging and passionate and tackled every scene and song with gusto.
The only weakness in this performance was the synchronization between singers and recorded orchestral tracks. The chorus numbers are especially stiff, dictated by the metronomic recording, and music seems to start and stop abruptly with the push of a button. Lloyd Webber’s many choruses can be electrifying, capturing the raw emotions of the era, but not on this day.
Costume designer Jim Buff once again draws on the vast inventory of Wick’s Costume World Theatrical (the theater also houses a wonderful Broadway costume museum) to wardrobe the peasants, politicians, artists and aristocrats who reside in Buenos Aires.
They say history is written by the victors. Seemingly every generation there has been a revolution in Argentina and Peron alternately fell in and out of favor. (Read up on the unbelievable story about the custody of her body.)
In Lloyd Webber and book writer/lyricist Tim Rice’s telling, Evita was an unrelenting social climber, obsessed with power. A recent trip to Argentina revealed a larger-than-life figure whose influence still can be felt on the wide boulevards of Buenos Aires, in the Eva Peron Museum and outside the humble Duarte family mausoleum in Recoleta Cemetery where her body finally came to rest. But, she is also revered by many as the spiritual leader of the nation.
History has been written and, in this case, it’s this story that survives.
The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Hwy. in Boca Raton, presents “Evita” through Feb. 23. Tickets are $75-85 at TheWick.org.