Eva's ascension

Maybe if someone made Barack Obama’s story into a pop opera, this whole sociopolitical transition — with its town-hall uprisings and halls-of-power histrionics — would seem like a less unpleasant affair. But until that wizard of the Great White Way, Andrew Lloyd Webber, turns his unique gifts toward our imperfect union, we can distract ourselves with his melodramatization of another country’s tumultuous relationship with its galvanizing leader. The San Pedro Playhouse offers us the opportunity with its revival of Evita, which opened this past Friday and runs through October 25 at the Russell Hill Rogers Theater.

A successful production of such a well-known play relies on sustained magnetism in its lead performers, and that pull was only sporadically strong on opening night. As the narrator, Che, Roy Bumgarner II held the most consistent connection with the audience. The role demands high energy and charismatic forcefulness from start to finish, and Bumgarner set the tone early with his engaging vocals and commanding stage presence. His ability stood out against the backdrop of soap-operatic overacting among the ensemble — which is intentional to a certain degree but grating nonetheless. The ensemble is strong when their voices are united and their movements coordinated, but a measure of subtlety would go a long way toward making the visual and aural tableau more cohesive.

The visuals need no help in the technical department, however. Paul Garza’s lighting design flawlessly transitions the action between locales and moods, and the simple set design moves when and where it should with smart precision. Unfortunately, the sound doesn’t keep pace. Numerous technical glitches, including microphone static and late cues, took my mind out of the story and into the sound booth. In many cases, however, my mind was already there. It’s understandable that a smaller-scale production wouldn’t have a live orchestra, but the audio quality of the music recording leaves a great deal to be desired — at times it evoked more ringtone than revolution. But if the crew can iron out those few opening-night mishaps, the musical experience will be more enjoyable.

In the title role, Beth Delcampo does her best to pull in the show’s energy, good and bad, and project it into the audience. She is gorgeous in the period costuming and makeup, but a little less consistency in her appearance might have made the performance more compelling.  Her beauty is so fixed it’s almost mask-like — which is not altogether inappropriate for the character of Eva Perón, who became the face of Argentina by carefully constructing her image, but we seldom see the life of her mind in that face. As the cracks in Eva’s public visage become more visible, however, Delcampo’s naturalism grows to fill them. In the penultimate scene, as we listen to Eva’s second rendition of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” the image recedes and the woman emerges.

But even by then you may find yourself still thinking about the understated elegance of Amber Marie Loftis as Juan Perón’s mistress, who is ousted by Eva early in her rise to eminence. Loftis sings a lovely number about her uncertain future, and her genuine emotion cuts through the artificiality of Eva’s world like a bayonet. Loftis seems almost out of place among caricatures; I wanted to follow her story to find out “what happens now,” as the song asks. This can’t be the desired effect for a play that is supposed to be all about the heroine, but Loftis brings to the mistress what was lacking at that point in Delcampo’s performance: depth of feeling. Then again, those who adored Evita considered her a modern-day saint, and in life as in art, saints are usually one-dimensional. •

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