Bay Street Theater’s Evita is a triumphant success. The show’s opening night performance received booming applause and a standing ovation for this beautiful rendition of a cherished classic. Whether you’re a long-time fan or are just learning about this musical now, this is an adaption that’s not to be missed.
Before the show even begins, audience members ooh and aah at the incredible level of detail that Anna Louizos put into designing the set. The exposed brick, worn wooden beams, dirty windows and lacerated bar call attention to the tavern’s age and status as a speakeasy of sorts. The size of the set is massive, complete with a band corner, bathroom, closet and stairs leading up to a second floor.
The play kicks off with footage of the First Lady of Argentina Eva Perón cast onto a projector screen that’s best viewed from house right. The ensemble begins singing a haunting funeral march for the beloved Eva (Arianna Rosario), called “Evita” by her devoted followers. The pale blue light shone on the singers gives them a ghostly glow and adds to the ominous vibe of the opening number, “Requiem.” This tone abruptly changes when Ché (Trent Saunders) bursts onto the scene, and begins singing the funky pop song “Oh What a Circus.” He and the mourners take turns trying to out-sing each other, while the audience quickly becomes endeared to Ché as he cheekily mocks his fellow Argentinians for worshipping a leader who, from his point of view, accomplished nothing for them.
Throughout the sung-through musical, Ché solidifies his place as the audience favorite with witty remarks, political criticisms and nonstop teasing of the title character. While Eva’s life story is told from his entertainingly cynical perspective, he’s unable to turn viewers entirely against her. Bay Street has made sure to offer a fair representation of Eva, both in the musical and in the playbill. The included reading shines a light on some of her incredible accomplishments that take a back seat in the musical, such as championing women’s suffrage within her first year as First Lady. How’s that for accomplishing nothing?
Rosario’s portrayal of Eva Perón was brilliant in its complexity. She strutted around the stage like a Latina Madonna, exuding strength while wearing a new dress in every scene, each more fabulous than the last. She expertly portrays a woman with great ambition who demands love and respect, but still goes out of her way to genuinely care for the poor. Rosario’s powerful soprano did a great service to the classic “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” as well as “Rainbow High,” “Eva’s Final Broadcast” and other numbers. Her moments with husband Juan Perón, (real-life fiancé Omar Lopez-Cepero) are particularly moving, with the couple’s evident chemistry shining through.
While the ensemble’s costumes employ earth tones (as does the set) and cheaper looking fabrics to allow Eva and Perón to stand out, the dance numbers are never visually dull. The creative team had the brilliant intuition to introduce a pop of color into almost every song—from colorful scarves, to eccentric high society props, to whatever Eva is wearing—to keep the thrilling choreography from getting lost in a sea of beige.
Director Will Pomerantz and Choreographer Marcos Santana masterfully infused every nook of the stage with life, with over a dozen dancers gliding around center stage, the band jamming in the back, and the three leads rotating between the spotlight, second floor and bar. The pinnacle of the dance numbers was the one-two punch of “Goodnight and Thank You” and “The Art of the Possible.” In the former, Eva climbs the social ladder one man at a time, subjecting them to dancing a pantsless walk of shame. Immediately following, Perón challenges these men to a battle for political power, a la a game of musical chairs, but with military hats. Seeing this complicated history told in such fun and clever ways keeps the audience entirely enthralled from start to finish.
Due to popular demand, Evita will receive an extended run at Bay Street Theater (1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor) through September 2, with special sing-a-long nights following weekend performances and an LGBTQ after party following the August 19 matinée. Visit baystreet.org or call 631-725-9500 for ticket availability.