By Cory Bilicko
Sometimes it’s difficult to not let one particular unseemly aspect of a show ruin the whole theatrical experience.
Cal State Long Beach’s University Players’ production of Evita is indeed an ambitious, successful undertaking with some exceptionally talented vocalists and dancers dramatizing the story of Eva Perón, the First Lady of Argentina from 1946 to 1952. However, several incidents of nether-region fondling and a moment in which a young man simulates fornication in the style of a gyrating male stripper not only seem anachronistic, they also undermine an otherwise classy musical about a woman who rose from being a rural product of wedlock to a powerful voice for working-class Argentines. (Did cast members from a local production of Cabaret somehow sneak onto this Evita set last Saturday night?)
Unbecoming acts aside, the cast here consist of a lovely songbird in the eponymous role (Jessica Hayes), an acrobatic Che (Jared Crossman) who courageously hangs and jumps from various levels of the three-story set, and a powerhouse vocalist (Andrew Pedroza) as Perón.
In contrast to the aforementioned moments of inappropriateness, a highlight of the production is the dancers, especially featured performer Thomas Vu, who proved to be an audience-pleaser. Director Joanne Gordon (who helmed a powerfully satisfying production of David Eldridge’s Festen on the Queen Mary last fall) utilizes his impressive talent in all the right places, and, although it could be described as a sort of break-dancing meets modern dance, his movement is abstract enough that it works in symbolizing the anti-Eva militaristic sentiment of her later years.
With its theme of a young leader instilling hope in people while also frustrating a left-wing support system, this staging of Evita is certainly a well-timed choice.
Evita runs through Saturday, March 27. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm and Saturday March 27 at 2pm in the Studio Theatre on the CSULB South Campus, accessible via West Campus Drive. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for seniors and students (with valid ID). For tickets and information, call (562) 985-5526 or visit csulb.edu/depts/theatre.