In the current world we live in, powerful political leaders are constantly in the news. Yet, with all of the campaign promises our leaders guarantee and the positive things they initiate, there, unfortunately, almost always seems to be some form of corruption, lying or abuse of power underneath. You only have to look at the news events of this week to see how power, politics, corruption and lies seem to never go away.
Juan Perón, who served as the President of Argentina three times, is also a man who, while incredibly popular during his terms in office, also had his share of detractors and corruption charges.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice immortalized Perón, and his wife Eva, in the Tony wining musical Evita, and Gary Bartón portrays Perón in the national tour of the show that comes to the Orpheum Theatre this weekend, playing March 1-3.
Bartón is a classically trained actor, singer/songwriter, director and playwright, with a vast resume of stage, TV and film credits. He's also done a lot of research on Juan and Eva to prepare him for this role, and has found, like any person, they had both positive and negative traits.
Bartón sat down in-between tour stops to answer some questions about this show, his character, and the relevance of a musical with poplar, political characterst that's set over a half century ago with our current politically polarized world.
Evita is an award winning musical that has had revivals, tours and even a filmed version yet some people may not have heard of this show. What would you tell them it’s about?
"Evita is about Juan Peron’s rise from the military to President of Argentina… oops, that’s my characters point of view! Evita is about Eva Duarte, a young woman who came from poverty with a chip on her shoulder about those who had money and influence. She used her womanly charms and acting talent to rise up the social ladder until she found a similar man who needed a strong woman’s help to push him toward his own ambitions. With Eva’s help Juan Peron becomes president, but being first lady doesn’t get her the respect and love she needs and craves. In the end she finds that even being adored by the masses isn’t enough. All this takes place with her storyteller/conscience Che feeding her doubts about her motives and prodding her with what the future may think of her."
Tell us a little about the character you play?
"Juan Peron, came from lower-middle class parents and worked his way up through the military to vice president under a military regime. When they were overthrown he was jailed. When he was released he made a bid for president and enlisted the help of the labor unions. His marriage to a well-known actress Eva Duarte boosted his popularity and led to his election. He was influenced by the fascism of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy when he was military attaché and based there from 1938-1940. Also he learned a lot from the nationalism and socialism that Mussolini spouted. I could go on, but I believe you can only take so much from research as you have to look at what the author’s of the musical/play have determined important or how they strayed from history. So you use what you can. In the musical, he is written to have ambition, but perhaps not as much confidence as history suggests and that he needed Eva to spurn his ambitions and to help him over his own self doubts in order to become President."
What type of research did you do for this show?
"Since these are real people, we all did extensive research, but in the end only used what supported the author’s vision for the musical as what isn’t reflected in the actual show becomes useless. However, the good that Eva did for the country isn’t quite reflected in the show. Whether for political reasons or not she and Peron brought more equality to the poor, the laborers (higher wages, health etc) and women (getting them the vote) leading to better conditions. However, the play also doesn’t go into some of the abuses of power such as firing tons of University professors who opposed them.
|Gary Bartón and Yael in Evita|
photo by Will Page, courtesy of the National Tour of EVITA
In this show you play an actual person. What are the difficulties in playing someone that actually existed?
"Well, you want to be as true to the person as possible, but you also have to be true to the story you are telling and sometimes they differ. As I’ve seen, history is written by the winners, so in some instances we don’t know the actual truth behind some of the research we’ve done. Our job is to tell the story written and hopefully we do a good job of that. In my case, I had to make some assumptions about Juan and Eva’s love story. I made the choice that he loved her with all his being… though some say it was their mutual ambition that drove their attachment… I believe it started that way, but for Juan became true love… perhaps when he saw the power she held over the people of Argentina that infected him."
All three lead characters have their strengths and weaknesses. How has your opinion of your character changed since you started this tour?
"When we started performing, my character through-line changed as I realized how much Juan Peron loved Eva and when (in the play) his respect of her ambition changed to actual love. "
What is your favorite part of the show?
"There are too many to list. From watching the Ensemble (from the wings) set up their characters in the movie theater scene at the beginning,… to my character lifting Eva up after she’s passed out from the effects of cancer. I’d have to say though, my favorite part is during 'Don’t Cry For Me Argentina' when the crowd goes into slow motion adoration of Eva that seems to make her saint-like… this is the moment in the show when my Juan Peron falls madly for her. "
Evita takes place mainly in the 1940s and 1950s and is a musical that first premiered in the 1970s. Why do you think this story is still relevant today?
"So many reasons: women’s rights and respect; how people treat a powerful woman figure; politics and corruption; and, promises and lack of fulfillment… It’s the story of every government everywhere… One of my favorite lines is when Peron sings, 'It’s annoying that we have to fight elections for our cause, having to get a majority (always elicits a laugh from the audience). If normal methods of persuasion fail to win us applause, there are other ways of establishing authority. "
What important messages are there in this musical?
"Don’t let power get to you. Remain true to your message. It’s an awkward musical in that you have a hero/anti-hero in Eva because you always have Che questioning her motives and her gains. "
What do you hope audiences take away from seeing this tour of Evita?
"I don’t want to put anything into our audience’s heads… I want them to experience this new and exciting version without preconceived notions."
CLICK HERE for more information on EVITA, which plays at the Orpheum Theatre from March 1-3