With bold confidence, the P3 Theatre Company have landed in Long Beach, CA with a great version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic Evita. P3 is the latest group to add their talents to the stage, and they have helped to make the Ernest Borgnine Theater into a wonderful home. With an energetic cast lead by Christy Mauro-Cohen and Euriamis Losada, the show came to life in their second weekend to an enthusiastic crowd. While the results were at times spotty (there were technical errors prior to the show's start), all of it went away once the actors took the stage and reminded audiences what really mattered. With excellent performances and staging, this is a great way to induct a new group into the Long Beach theater scene and will hopefully be the start of a great first season.
To enter the Ernest Borgnine Theater is to see something lavish and full of awe. The medium theater hosts performances on the second floor in an 800-seat room, though one would be forgiven for taking their time to get there. The architecture dates back to the 1920s and has held up beautifully in the decades since. The room itself features excellent acoustics, allowing every vocal performance to carry throughout the room, even among the towering ceiling that gives the stage enough room to sprawl out the musical epic about Eva Peron. It's a venue worthy of performances, and thankfully the P3 Theatre Company have the charisma not only to bring the show to life but fill every last inch of the stage with purpose.
There are few downsides to the first production to be expected. For starters, there is a need for volunteers in upkeep positions (contact them at their website if you wish to help). There were also a few sound problems prior to the show's start. However, the cast and crew managed to be good spirits about it even though the show started a few minutes late. Beyond that, there are the makings of a group of enthusiastic employees, including ushers and box office workers to make you feel at home.
For everything that happened, the show itself was something to behold. The story of Eva Peron is one full of infectious music, and luckily the cast was able to deliver with purpose. The Tony-winning story is a nonstop ball of energy, bouncing through years and locations in rapid succession, hiding humor underneath lyrical passages. From the moment that the antagonistic rebel of a narrator named Che (Losada) came out on stage, there was a fiery sense of passion. Che, a figure against the adorned Argentine leader Eva (Mauro-Cohen), bangs his hand on the coffin of the recently deceased Eva, beating a wild heart into the narration. To follow Eva's story would be too simple. To follow Che's interpretation is to find humor in how this young upstart gained power but in some ways lost her agency in the process. She was now a figurehead representative of something greater, but what was so great about it?
The music by Webber and Tim Rice mixes the feel of approaching a Barnum & Bailey circus with classic Argentine music such as flamenco guitar. There is a rush to hearing the aggressive strings build as Che highlights Eva's hypocrisy as he evades her guards. There is something always going on onstage, and the behind the scenes action is just as entertaining as when the radio is on and a whole country listens eagerly to their leader. It creates the perfect contrast to Eva's rise and Che's symbolism of a community representing "A New Argentina" not quite getting the revolution they hoped for, but settling for whatever they got instead. Was Eva a hero? It really depends on who you ask within the show.
It's a bittersweet narration that is perfectly accompanied by brisk stage transitions. As Eva ascends the stairs to the second floor, there are stage-hands quickly moving her from upstage. Even as Eva meets the man of power, Juan Peron (Rudy Martinez), there are dancers above her symbolically representing her dance into a higher power. Even if the set remains simple, it has clever ways of conveying the cultural disconnect between Peron and the Argentina she controls, such as when Eva and Juan sing from their bed even as protestors (from exterior scenes) stand around. It creates a juxtaposition that only the best theater can, showing that while others struggle, Eva and Juan are in the ultimate state of comfort. As much as the music does the heavy lifting, the stage is just as artful in acts as simple as watching Che break the fourth wall to flamboyantly mock the military and upper class. It all has a deeper point despite its campiness, and that's part of the brilliance of the show.
Of course, Eva is the star of the show. Mauro-Cohen carries the show with a mix of confidence and timidity as she discovers that her power doesn't always satisfy her. Still, in sequences such as the catchy "Rainbow High" and "Rainbow Tour" scenes, she is able to emote in a way that reflects her confidence even as the tour doesn't go right. She is a tragic figure, and Mauro-Cohen sells every minute of it. Even the iconic "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" feels more emotional as she looks over her adoring crowd. The only one not impressed is Losada, who makes Che's ability to observe into something of an art form. He tries to persuade people to notice what's wrong, but nobody cares. Eva is too charismatic, and thankfully Che as a narrator is more-so, managing to do for the audience what he couldn't do in the show.
With elaborate dancing and great costume work, Evita comes to life with an urgency that seems promising for the P3 Theatre Company. Their upcoming season will include such great shows as Steel Magnolias, Sordid Lives, Gypsy, and A Chorus Line. If they have a cast as talented and versatile as this, then it will be a great season of theater. As far as introductions go, P3 has made an excellent case for their place in Long Beach theater. For those wanting to see the magic, Evita is still running until September 29. While it's worth seeing who the new faces in town are, it should also be seen for why executive artistic director Jon Peterson and crew's passion for the arts are more than deserved to be expressed. Tickets currently are going for $35, which is a good deal. Whether you want to see a great new theater group or one of theater's best shows, it's a good reason to get out to the Ernest Borgnine Theater and witness the magic.