The final act of Bay Street Theater’s 2018 Mainstage Season arrives on July 31 with its third historical drama, Evita. Unlike Fellow Travelers and Frost/Nixon before it, the final production is a musical and focuses on Argentinian politics instead of American.
Evita is a world-famous show written by Tim Rice with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It takes place after the death of First Lady Eva Perón at age 33, which hurled Argentina into a state of mourning. Ché Guevara narrates the history of the Peróns, highlighting their faults and political missteps. Many critics have noted that the play demonizes Eva, making her more underhanded than her real-life counterpart. It goes as far as to suggest that she cleverly slept her way to the top of the social ladder and laundered money that she was supposedly raising for charity.
The Bay Street adaptation, directed by Will Pomerantz, will instead tell a more unbiased story. The theater has devoted the 2018 Mainstage season to telling the honest truth about controversial figures such as Elia Kazan and Richard Nixon. Each has been portrayed with dignity and complexity, crediting their successes without excusing their shortcomings, and Eva will be given the same treatment. Arianna Rosario, who will play Eva Perón, shares that, “We’re not here to preach to people. We’re presenting both sides.”
This new take on the classic musical sets the opening scene on the 10th anniversary of Eva’s death, at an underground tango bar where a group of her loyal supporters assemble every year to remember her political legacy. Ché, portrayed by Aladdin the Musical actor Trent Saunders, offers a quick breeze through Eva’s life story, including her impoverished upbringing, rise to power, and partnership with Juan Perón. Rosario points out that Eva still displays an “underlying bit of manipulation” in this version, but it’s more clear that whatever actions she takes, she does so for the people of Argentina.
In typical Bay Street fashion, this large-scale musical will be boiled down to its core, bringing the audience closer to the iconic characters and events. Everyone’s favorite songs, such as “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” will be performed at the center of the action. With a close eye on authenticity, set designer Anna Louizos came up with a brilliant idea to make the bar look gritty: she began carving names and dates into the exterior, inviting cast and crew to do the same throughout rehearsals.
Rosario has a long history of dance but did not begin singing professionally until the 2011 run of A Christmas Carol at McCarter Theatre in New Jersey. Now a verified triple threat, she has performed in two regional productions and in the national tours of West Side Story and Cinderella, a Broadway run and tour of On Your Feet! and in the Broadway revival of Cats. She’ll never forget when the curtain went up at the opening preview of Cats, her Broadway debut, and she could feel the “electricity in the air” as the cast and audience laid eyes on each other for the first time.
Rosario is thrilled to play such a strong, iconic Latina leading a primarily Latin cast, and she’s equally excited to act opposite her fiancé Omar Lopez-Cepero. The two previously worked alongside the choreographer of Evita, Marcos Santana, on the Broadway production of On Your Feet!. Santana called in Lopez-Cepero to audition, who then suggested Rosario. At the time she was in rehearsals for another show and had to quickly learn five songs from Evita to perform on the last day of auditions. The couple now infuse their own chemistry into the Peróns.
Prior to being cast as Juan Perón, Lopez-Cepero most recently appeared in Theatre Under the Stars’ Latin reimagining of Guys & Dolls, and he has also made several appearances on and off Broadway in American Idiot, The Capeman and Foreverman.
Evita previews begin at Bay Street Theater (1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor) on July 31, with opening night scheduled for August 4. Tickets can be purchased at baystreet.org or by calling 631-725-9500.