EVITA Director’s Notes
by Gina Rattan
Researching and assembling this production of EVITA has been a joy. The deeper and more entrenched in the research I became, the more I was aware of certain key moments in Eva’s early life that influenced her decision-making as an adult.
Eva Perón was known for her tenacity, ambition, perseverance, generosity toward women and children, and her unlikely rise to power from very poor origins. Born in 1919 in the rural outskirts of Buenos Aires, her mother was a poor seamstress who became the mistress to a married man. They had five children together before he left to return to his first family. For Eva’s entire childhood she was beset with gossip and rumors from everyone in her town. She was not legitimate, not to be taken seriously. Her family was a threat to the very values of those who lived in her village.
Eva’s world was a harsh one, since her family was very poor, ostracized, and marginalized. Her country was one of an entrenched, stratified class system. Upward mobility or advancement was not an option, particularly not for young women. In Eva’s world, a woman’s purpose was to find a husband and start a family.
She and her sisters were deep fanatics of movies, which they saved and scraped to see when they came to town once a month. Many films were American, but a few were Argentine, set in the big city. As they do for many of us, movies provided an escape and a romanticized version of a better life, just beyond Eva’s reach in Buenos Aires.
In 1934, at the age of fifteen, she became one of many Argentines to be ferried by the newly minted railway system to Buenos Aires. (Contrary to how it is portrayed in the musical, Eva travelled alone, not in the company of Augustin Magaldi, although he did perform in her hometown.) She became a stage actress quite quickly and started where many young performers do, in the ensemble. As was standard practice for young actresses in the ensemble at this time, she was not paid, nor were her costumes provided by the theater company. Instead, young actresses were expected to find an older gentleman; a punto fijo (steady man) or calballero blanco (sugar daddy) to pay their wage and provide costumes for the show. Eva was once propositioned by the director of a show she was starring in (the Argentine premiere of Lillian Helman’s The Children’s Hour); she turned him down and quit the show.
Her success as a stage actress lead to success as a radio star (her brother also moved to Buenos Aires and owned a soap company which owned a radio station). She was the best paid radio actress of her time. The Argentine radio network was the second largest in the world, next to the United States. Her success there led to her becoming a movie star. She was incredibly successful between ages 15 to 25. She also struggled immensely to make enough money to live. For those ten years, she never lived anywhere that had hot water. In 1944, at the age 25, she met Juan Perón, a man whose ambitions and drive matched her own. Since 1944 and Perón’s rise to power, she has been characterized as the driving force behind his politics, policy, and corruption.
Evita has always been a fascinating musical to me, not only for its lush score, complicated characters, and thrilling dramatization of an historical narrative, but also as it’s one of the first modern musicals (written in 1976) to feature a narrator.
Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber present us Eva’s story through the lens which women in power are viewed – the perspective of a man. What you’re about to see is an examination of Eva’s story as told and as perceived through the eyes of Che, an erstwhile admirer turned ardent opponent. One who is obsessed and consumed with her public image, accomplishments, failures, and motives. As Eva herself said, “You must want! You have the right to ask! You must desire.”
EVITA opens April 13 and runs through April 29, with a preview on April 12.