When Lauren Kennedy last played Eva Peron, the lead role in Evita, for N.C. Theatre, it was 1993 and she was a 20-year-old at the dawn of her professional career. After her final bows, she immediately joined the cast—the original cast—of another Andrew Lloyd Webber show, Sunset Boulevard. A Broadway career followed.
It has taken 18 years for an encore. But after a well-received February production of the show about the famous Argentine first lady in Fort Worth—and a reunion there with former N.C. Theatre producer Wally Jones—Kennedy revives the title role in a production that opens here Saturday, Oct. 22.
Still, contemporary theatergoers may view the 1976 musical differently than those of a generation ago. Tim Rice's libretto was based on a politically hostile, and subsequently discredited, 1952 biography, ominously titled The Woman With the Whip. In Evita, Peron's life is judged through the eyes of another Argentine icon, Che Guevara. Had the brothers Koch funded an Obama biography, the results might have been similar.
The woman who rose from poverty to champion and help secure women's suffrage in Argentina in 1947, an outspoken advocate for labor rights and a philanthropist who founded her country's first women's political party, is largely demonized in Lloyd Webber's musical as a no-holds-barred opportunist and hypocrite, an exemplar of what critic Orla Swift once dubbed "drooling ambition."
This is a compelling, even Machiavellian tale. It's also historically problematic. Tito Hernandez directs a cast including English Bernhardt, Jonathan Hammond and Ray Walker. Saturday's 8 p.m. opening performance is followed by shows daily through Oct. 30 (except Monday). —Byron Woods