The Heroine of a Century
Zach Theatre, through Nov. 1.
by Michael Abedin
Seventy years ago, October, 1945. Former army officer Juan Peron, Secretary of Labor and one of the most powerful men in Argentina’s politics, is thrown in jail by political opponents. He’s released on October 17, the story goes, when his beautiful young mistress makes a passionate plea to the people of Argentina from a balcony.
Good story – but Peron was actually released October 15, when over a quarter million workers and peasants gathered to protest, and he made his own dramatic balcony speech. Facts don’t always get in the way of a good story, though – and the story is Evita.
The one-name heroine.
In 1944, an earthquake strikes Argentina. At a gala to benefit survivors, Peron meets a young, dark-haired actress half his age, Eva Duarte. Leaving together in the wee hours, she becomes his mistress – and, by the end of 1945, his wife. By 1946, she’s blonde, elegant, and, with Peron’s rise to the presidency, First Lady of Argentina.
Eva, from a poor background, becomes a symbolic champion of the disenfranchised poor, the working class, and women – then becomes the larger-than-life Evita, the one-name heroine of her people, a national celebrity.
Peron wanted her to be vice-president in 1951, but she withdrew. Her health was declining, and she died in 1952, only thirty-three. In a bizarre postscript, her heavily embalmed body – meant to be displayed permanently in an elaborate mausoleum – disappeared for seventeen years.
Humble beginnings, a meteoric rise to diva-like fame, a tragic early death, a mysterious posthumous subplot – Evita was the spiritual sister of Marilyn and Princess Di. If Broadway hadn’t already been there, God would have created it just so Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice could do the musical. (If he hadn’t created Madonna to play the movie role, she would’ve made a deal somehow – we’re talking Madonna, after all.)
Haven’t seen the movie or play? Bet you can still fill in the blank for this song title – Don’t Cry for Me, _________. Haven’t seen it live? Evita is showing at Austin’s nationally acclaimed Zach Theatre, starring Madeline Trumble.
Like 1970’s Jesus Christ Superstar, also created by Weber and Rice, Evita started its life as a 1976 rock opera concept album, with all the dialogue sung rather than spoken.
Glamor, intrigue, revolution. Che – a take on real-life Argentinian and Marixist revolutionary Che Guevara – wanders through the action, narrating, critiquing, and serving as sort of a de facto invisible revolutionary conscience for the lavish lifestyle of the Perons while they positioned themselves as working-class heroes.
Evita created the role of a short lifetime, right in the middle of a century.
Evita, through Nov. 1 at Zach, 202 S. Lamar. Showtimes, tickets: www.ZachTheatre.org