Musical theater is war. Most musicals are created by teams of artists—composers, lyricists, playwrights—who tend to leave behind problems for producing companies to solve: boring music, a terrible book, etc. The bold souls at Broadway Rose chose to grapple this summer with Evita—Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's hilariously bombastic, historically dubious concept album turned stage show about the life of Eva Perón—and lost, though not for lack of trying.
Evita, originally produced in London by the indomitable director Hal Prince, follows Eva (Susannah Mars), Argentina's enigmatic first lady, from her rural girlhood and early acting career through her rise to power alongside her husband, Juan Perón (Ron Harman), and death from cancer at 33. The story is narrated, for reasons I cannot begin to fathom, by Che Guevara (Brian Lane Green), even though the revolutionary never crossed paths with the Peróns.
The stage show, true to its origins as an LP, contains no dialogue, leaving the audience to fill in the story points missing from Rice's offensively trite lyrics ("I came from the people/ They need to adore me/ So Christian Dior me") from the synopsis in the program. The score, falling halfway between Webber's masterful pop-rock of Jesus Christ Superstar and the hateful pop-schlock of Cats, sprinkled with faux Latinisms, forces the players to shout their way through jarring fragments of melody, leaving the lyrics unintelligible. Worst of all, Webber and Rice misread Perón's life. The woman was no saint, but she was also a great philanthropist—she didn't climb to the top just to satisfy her own vanity.
Broadway Rose's production, helmed by Abe Reybold, puts up a good fight, with a solidly designed set, bright costumes, twirling tango dancers and a trio of excellent singers in the lead roles. Mars appears to struggle with Eva's early songs, but busts out her big, beautiful diva voice for the show's best number, "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You." Harman's velvety baritone balances Mars' forceful charisma, and Green, a New York import, plays the ghoulish Che with admirable fire. Reybold cranks up the show's visual appeal with delightfully weird choreography, seemingly inspired by equal parts Latin heat and Arrested Development's Hot Cops. But despite all of this, the company can't muster enough punch to overcome the muddy score and weak characterizations. The musical—lengthy, jarring and difficult to follow—is still a bit of a bore.
Deb Fennell Auditorium, 9000 SW Durham Road, Tigard, 620-5262. 7:30 pm Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Closes Aug. 16. $30-$35.