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A Hurried, Flimsy Affair

"This musical", my theater companion whispered during the first song, "sounds like the 80s. In the worst possible way."

He was right. "Evita", first staged in 1980 and currently at the Curran Theater, did not age well. The orchestral swells sound like synthesizers; the breathless songs about glamour and stardom must have resonated a lot more when Madonna was actually living as a material girl, not eight years after she played "Evita" in the movie version. The flimsy staging, with a screen showing black and white stills hanging over the performers, as if reminding the audience that the actors bear an extremely superficial resemblance to the historical figures, doesn't add any weight to the affair.

"Evita" tells the story of Eva Duarte, an Argentinean woman born in 1919 to poor (or, at least, middle class) parents who schemed and slept her way up to Juan Peron, a general who became the President of Argentina in 1943. Eva, now Evita, remade herself as Argentine royalty, claiming that her excessive love of European fashion and her habit of dipping into the state-sponsored charity fund were for the good of the country. Her legacy, in real life and in the musical, is mixed; while she managed to conquer nasty social forces on her way up and help some of Argentina's neediest citizens, she exploited her popularity in an undeniably criminal way.

More in the style of an opera than a musical, "Evita" features practically no dialogue. Moving from song to song with incredible speed, the production felt rushed. The actors, most of whom had strong voices, especially Kathy Voytko as Evita, had very little opportunity to add any personal touches or humanizing notes to their performances. Furthermore, the sets were lackluster. The balcony scene, where Evita belts out that crowd-pleaser, "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" was especially hampered by the screen hanging down from the rafters, reducing the visual field when the audience should have felt the full effect of Evita singing to Argentina's masses.

Without any room for an emotional or intellectual investment in the story, "Evita" felt like a song-delivery-service by the performers: get onstage, sing the familiar anthem, get the hell off. Perhaps the ideal setting for this musical would be in a casino, where patrons could carry on conversations and imbibe free drinks while the players ran around the stage. You could wait for a favorite song (my money's on "Another Suitcase, Another Hall", sung by a mistress of Juan Peron whom Eva kicks out) then, when the whole thing bores, head out to the slot machines. After taking in such staid, predictable fare you might just be jonesing for the potential of an unexpected payoff.

3/15 through 4/10/2005
Golden Gate Theatre
Tues -Sat at 8pm, Wed, Sat & Sun at 2pm
Tickets: $35 - $80