Adventures: Evita: a marvelous musical, a bizarre life

Art imitates life imitates art at a Vancouver Opera matinée presentation of Evita.

‘Evita’, the multiple Tony Award-winning Andrew Lloyd Webber Best Musical, recently played to Vancouver Opera full houses at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre. If you were fortunate enough to get tickets, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Being familiar with the turbulent tale of Eva Perón, wife of Argentine dictator General Juan Perón, I was intrigued by American Caroline Bowman’s dynamic portrayal of this legendary woman.

Revolutionary Che Guevara, the South American who knew Eva and was less charmed than the rest of the country, was convincingly crafted by talented Iranian-Canadian singer and actor, Ramin Karimloo.

Although the show, which my friend, Sheila French, and I enjoyed tremendously, has completed its run, I mention it here for a few reasons.

Being Langley and Cloverdale residents, Sheila and I chose the ease of a casual matinée performance preceded by the brief informal pre-show historical overview.

The warm Vancouver day synced perfectly with the musical’s Latin setting.

At intermission, we basked in brilliant sunshine on the QE patio, sipped chardonnay, admired the passing parade of fellow theatre fans, and reflected on the outstanding wealth of easily accessible high calibre theatre and arts productions throughout the Lower Mainland. The international performance we were currently enjoying was a perfect example.

Seeing young, clearly excited, children venturing into these adult worlds of music and make-believe always delights me. This performance of ‘Evita’ was no exception.

http://webpapersadmin.bcnewsgroup.com/portals/uploads/cloverdale/.DIR288/wEvita-11.jpgVancouver Opera, Canada’s second largest opera company, was founded in 1958. In addition to world-class stage status, the VO has welcomed over 1,600,000 children into specially adapted short operas sung in English. They’ve also participated in many aspects of live theatre.

The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Jonathan Darlington for Evita) was founded in 1919 as a not-for-profit Society. Over 50,000 children and young adults are among the 250,000 people who attend annually.

In May, I was privileged to be a guest adjudicator at the ‘No Borders Dance Challenge’.

Traditionally ‘No Borders’ is the final segment of the five-week Surrey Festival of Dance. Fortunately, five professional adjudicators wielded the balance of power as I struggled to assign realistic points to the outstandingly talented young people before us on the Surrey Arts Centre Main Stage.

Without hesitation I suggest to you that the level of talent demonstrated would have impressed any seasoned audience.

For example, ‘On the Qin River’, a charming, complex, tribute to Chinese classical romance, took top prize in the International Division. Surely any professional company would welcome any of these young artists.

In one division the score between first and second place was something like .325 of a point.

Surrey Festival of Dance, the largest amateur dance competition in North America, just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Thanks to SFD, over 8,500 young dancers have danced in the competition, which annually awards thousands of dollars in prizes, bursaries and scholarships.

Recognizing that cost can be a factor, families can still participate in local annual events like Children’s Arts Festivals in Richmond, Vancouver, and many other Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island centres.

Large or small (the children, or the event!) participants will undoubtedly grow in many ways influenced by the magic, story-telling, and interactive theatre at the Surrey International Children’s Festival at Bear Creek Park last weekend. It’s at times like these that I particularly miss my grandchildren.

Just like their parents before them, I’d have them involved in such events in a nanosecond.

I defy any child to resist The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Circus Incognitus, or Canada’s beloved Juno winner, Charlotte Diamond. Look for her new songs, “I Have Shoes and I Can Walk,” or “Put the Beat in Your Feet.”

Coming up Under the Arts Umbrella, for example, is The Gilded Bat to be staged at the Vancouver Playhouse (near the QE) June 9-12. Check it out at www.artsumbrella.com

Now, I’m off to the library to refresh my memory on the less musical details of Eva Duarte Perón’s stellar, but bizarre, life. I’d forgotten that the body of the woman who forged her birth certificate and became Argentina’s ‘Spiritual Leader of the Nation’ vanished for 16 years after her celebrated death at age 33.

It was finally revealed that the body had been secreted out of Argentina to Milan, Italy, where it lay entombed in a crypt under the name ‘María Maggi’.

In 1971, Eva Perón’s body was exhumed and flown to Spain, where her now exiled dictator husband, Juan Perón, was living with this third wife, Isabel. Perón and his new wife kept the embalmed corpse in their dining room on a platform near the table.

The body, after being held ransom, was finally laid to rest in what amounts to a nuclear bomb-proof underground tomb in the Recoleta Cemetery near Bueno Aires. You can visit the memorial there… and wonder….

‘Evita’ was an outstanding afternoon musical adaption of an unbelievably dramatic life. It has inspired me to investigate the entire story – despite being aware that, like the saga’s heroine, her whole truth lies shrouded in mystery.

To quote Oscar Wilde: “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

– Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a British Columbia-based writer and arts enthusiast.