A Tango-Centric ‘Evita’ at Bay Street

An intimate prodcution
Omar Lopez-Cepero as Juan Peron and Arianna Rosario as Eva Peron perform a tango in Bay Street Theater’s production of “Evita.” Barry Gordin

The musical “Evita,” which will begin previews at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor on Tuesday and open on Aug. 4, engages social and political issues that are as relevant today as they were in mid-20th-century Argentina.

“Eva Peron, a complicated woman who frankly uses her sexuality to gain power, is an interesting character to look at in light of the #MeToo movement,” said Scott Schwartz, the theater’s artistic director. “Peron was a populist leader, and it’s interesting to see his rise in the current climate, and how celebrity and politics mix in a very personal way.”

Like previous Bay Street musicals such as “Grey Gardens” and “My Fair Lady,” “Evita” posed a challenge for Will Pomerantz, director of the production: how to turn a large-scale Broadway show into a more intimate experience in a 299-seat thrust stage theater.

“The big idea is that the whole thing takes place in a tango bar in Buenos Aires,” said Mr. Pomerantz, who is also Bay Street’s associate artistic director. “The idea was to celebrate the intimacy of our space and focus on the characters and relationships and the psychology, things that can sometimes get lost in larger-scaled productions.”

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics and book by Tim Rice, “Evita” concentrates on the life of Eva Peron, the second wife of the Argentine president Juan Peron. The story follows her early life, rise to power, charity work, and eventual death.

“ ‘Evita’ has been on my list for a long time for Bay Street,” said Mr. Schwartz. “I love this show, I think it’s kind of a masterpiece. The score is just one hit after another, from ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ to ‘Rainbow High’ to ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall.’ ”

Unlike the original play, which opens at Eva Peron’s funeral, the Bay Street production is set on July 26, 1962, the 10th anniversary of Evita’s death, in a run-down tango club where a group of Peronistas gather every year to put on the play and recall why they loved Evita so much.

“It’s going to be a very dance-based production, with a lot of tango,” said Mr. Schwartz. Marcos Santana, whose Broadway credits include “On Your Feet,” “Rocky,” and “Guys and Dolls,” is the choreographer.

With one exception, 12-year-old Dakota Quackenbush from East Hampton, the cast is entirely Latino. “I’m very excited by this group of actors,” said Mr. Pomerantz. “They’re going to blow the roof off this place.”

The production stars Arianna Rosario (“On Your Feet,” “Cats,” “West Side Story”) as Eva Peron, Trent Saunders (“Aladdin,” “American Idiot” tour) as Che, the anonymous working-class narrator, and Omar Lopez-Cepero (“On Your Feet,” “American Idol” finalist) as Juan Peron. Life will belatedly imitate art in November, when Ms. Rosario and Mr. Lopez-Cepero will be married.  

The cast also includes Kyle Barisich (“The Phantom of the Opera,” Bay Street’s “My Fair Lady”) as Magaldi, and Gabi Campo (“The Prom” on Broadway) as the Mistress. Ensemble members are Julian Alvarez, Edgar Cavazos, Lauren Csete, Elisa Galindez, Juan Guillen, Jose Ozuna, Ms. Quackenbush, Carolina Santos Read, and Danelle Rivera.

“Everything is done in the club,” said Mr. Pomerantz, “using tables, chairs, some hand props, and some simple costume changes. And instead of having 38 or 40 people, we’re doing it with a cast of 14. The audience can really focus on all of them as individuals.” 

The members of the ensemble play all the roles — soldiers, aristocrats, the working class, and the working poor. “We get to see the ensemble transforming sometimes three or four times within the same music sequence.”

Mr. Pomerantz had a hunch that setting the play in the tango club would make sense, because tango is part of the score and part of the culture of Argentina. His subsequent research into the period led to some interesting discoveries.

In 1955, three years after Eva’s death from cancer and early in Juan Peron’s second term as president, a military coup not only sent him into exile, it led to the outlawing of anything to do with the Perons, including possessing any memorabilia related to the couple or even saying their names. 

In addition, because Peron revived tango as an indigenous art form when he was coming into power in the 1940s, the dance was outlawed after the coup. “So the tango bar in the play is also a kind of secret, even dangerous spot where the Peronistas could hang out and celebrate the Perons,” said Mr. Pomerantz. 

Performances will take place through Aug. 26 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays at 7 p.m. and Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8, with 2 p.m. shows on Aug. 12, 19, and 26. A limited number of “pay what you can” tickets will be available at the box office at 11 a.m. on Tuesday for that evening’s performance. Tickets range from $40 to $145. The Aug. 4 opening night show is sold out.