Broadway heroines come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments - from a tiny little orphan named Annie to gun-toting Annie Oakley; from the absobloomin'-lutely loverly Eliza Doolittle to the overbearing Mama Rose, Gypsy Rose Lee's domineering stage mother; from the larger-than-life matchmaker, Dolly Levi, to the zany, flamboyant Mame Dennis.
Perhaps the oddest, most controversial heroine in recent years on Broadway has been the late Argentine dictator Juan Peron's legendary widow, Eva - who's still worshiped by Peronists as "Saint Evita!" You won't find any Catholic shrines officially named after her, but Juan Peron was said to be lobbying for her sainthood before he died in 1974.Even today, thousands gather annually in the streets of Buenos Aires to mark the anniversary of her death from cancer in 1952 at the age of 33.
It's well-known, if not accurately documented, that Eva Peron, in real life, was a woman of few scruples. In her brief, but spectacular rise from the slums of Buenos Aires to Juan Peron's presidential palace, she kept the Villa Devoto jail filled with Argentinians who opposed or offended her. She was manipulative, as well, closing down nearly 100 of the country's newspapers that were brazen enough to criticize her husband's regime in print.
Eva Peron is certainly a different Broadway heroine from, say the Baroness Von Trapp of "The Sound of Music" fame. This is not a cheerful ex-nun singing and dancing through pastoral, idyllic meadows high in the Austrian Alps. What you get in Eva Peron is a character who's down and dirty - an ambitious, sensual, ex-mistress whose questionable attributes range from vulgar, vindictive, ruthless and exploitative - to talented, hard-working and beloved by the masses. The accounts vary, depending on who's being quoted.
If the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice production of "Evita" is on the mark, then Evita's "favorite things" included sleeping her way to show business success and political power - a realm far removed from "warm, woolen mittens" and cute, furry kittens.
A brief note in the Nov. 23, 1980, edition of Parade magazine explains that "Evita," the musical, is not historically accurate.
Composer Webber and lyricist Rice "took dramatic license in portraying Eva Peron as a domineering wife who called all the shots in her marriage to Col. Juan Peron. The opposite is the truth.
"Peron was the commanding figure in the relationship. Evita was an actress-hooker of illegitimate birth and a functional illiterate when she became Peron's mistress in 1944. Later, when he married her, Peron taught her most of what she knew.
"In 1952, when she died of cancer, Evita was 33 and the idol of Argentina's working class, whose members identified with her. But she never led Peron around by his nose. It was he who did the leading," Parade magazine said.
The musical _ actually more of an opera _ is scheduled for a three-performance run this weekend at the Capitol Theatre. The show's been banned in Argentina (and, considering that it's been nearly nine years since the show opened on Broadway _ to the tune of $2 million in advance ticket sales _ local theatergoers might have begun to wonder if it hadn't been banned in Utah as well, although there was a highly acclaimed student production a couple of years ago at Kingsbury Hall).
When "Evita" first opened in London in 1977, it became an immediate hit, despite the objections of some critics over the glamorizing of a woman who openly admired Hitler, Mussolini and Franco.
Saint or slut, there's no getting around the fact that Eva Peron was one of her era's most colorful political characters.
Prior to its New York opening, Broadway director Harold Prince did reshape the show a bit, convincing the authors to let him revise four minutes of dialogue and give Evita's on-stage critic _ Latin American firebrand Che Guevara _ more importance. The two renowned revolutionaries never actually met, but by using plenty of dramatic license Che is utilized within the framework of the show as a sort of narrator.
In a 1979 report in the New York Times, Michael Owen (an Evening Standard of London writer) said one anonymous individual who had played a major role in bringing the show from London to New York commented on the changes by saying, "Believe me, this is no `Springtime for Hitler.' Now it's just the opposite, more like Sinclair Lewis's `It Can't Happen Here.' It's more of a warning than a glorification, a demonstration of how the Argentine people were taken in by her."
Eva Peron, described by some as a Latin American Lady Macbeth, was a fascinating woman. Even Broadway director Prince, during a pre-Broadway run in San Francisco, commented that "she did many good things . . .(but) she also was a megalomaniac, corrupted by all that power. We try to show both sides."
The touring company version of "Evita" coming Friday and Saturday to the Capitol Theatre has been produced by Gordon Crowe and directed and staged by Kenneth Urmston, who has staged many national and international productions of "Evita," including a Spanish version in Mexico City.
The original Broadway production won seven Tonys in 1980, including best musical, best actress (Patti LuPone), actor (Mandy Patinkin), director (Prince), book (Rice), score (Webber-Rice) and lighting. It also copped a New York Drama Critics' Circle Award as "best musical."
As most touring companies go, the cast of "Evita" is, locally, largely unknown _ but the performers do come with a good set of credentials.
Madeliene Homan (Eva) is described as a gifted lyric soprano with extensive experience as a dramatic actress, including roles in "Elephant Man," "Country Wife" and "Rosencrantz & Guilderstern Are Dead."
Thomas Reiter (Che), a graduate of Crane School of Music in Potsdam, N.Y., has also appeared in "Camelot," "Pirates of Penzance," "The Sound of Music," "Hello Dolly" and "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Steven Snow (Peron) has a wide range of performing experience, including opera, classical theater and other musicals ("La Boheme," "The School for Scandal" and "Man of La Mancha"). Four young people from the Salt Lake area also will have secondary roles as various and sundry people of Argentina. They are: Sadie Eyre, Alex Arnold, John E. Beesley and Marei W. Mackey.
In addition to "Evita," Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice also collaborated on such hits as "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat" and "Jesus Christ Superstar."
Webber's latest megahit is "Phantom of the Opera," and his production of "Cats" is still playing to sellout crowds in London, New York and on the road. A national touring production of "Cats" sold out at the Capitol Theater last year _ and it looks as if "Evita" may be just as hot.
When I was visiting Mexico City a few years ago, one of the hit songs on the radio was Karen Carpenter's version of the "Evita" showstopper, "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina."
But if ticket sales are any indication, at least three Capitol Theatre-sized audiences of "Evita" patrons will meet one of Broadway's more colorful heroines this weekend.
Tickets, priced at $18.50, $25.50 and $29.50, are available at the Salt Palace box office and all Smith'sTix outlets. Call 363-7681 or 467-5996 for telephone charge orders.
Showtimes are Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.
Considering that "Evita" has turned the controversial wife of an international poltical figure into a Broadway bombshell, perhaps a playwright somewhere right now could be writing a new musical about Imelda Marcos. Just think of all those tap-dancing shoes. . . .