Picture a story narrated by Che (Based on Che Guevara, the Argentine Marxist revolutionary, physician, author, guerrilla leader, diplomat and military theorist), as he like a traditional Greek chorus takes us back in time to the point at which Evita Perón’s story begins.
We are drawn in as Agustín Magaldi is introduced to Eva Duarte, a flirtatious 15-year-old tango singer. He’s a singer on a travelling circuit just passing through and she was supposed to be a one-night-stand - but not young Eva. Her family and small-town community threaten to expose Magaldi and ruin his career. To avoid trouble, he agrees to take Eva to Buenos Aires where she quickly lands her first job and ultimately becomes a successful stage, radio and film actress.
Eva’s appearance is that of a bombshell, with a sort of sex-kitten personality, but in truth she is shrewd, very smart and a fighter. She also has the good fortune of as a lyric from the show says, "being in the right place at the perfect time."
Forward ten years later, to 1944 (remember true story!) and we have her first encounter with Colonel Juan Perón, the two meet at a charity event to benefit victims of an earthquake that devastated the town of San Juan, Argentina.
The two marry the following year and, in 1946, with her support, Perón is elected President of Argentina. Over the next six years, Eva becomes a powerful force within the trade unions, primarily for speaking on behalf of labor rights. She also runs the Ministries of Labor and Health, founded and ran the charitable Eva Perón Foundation, championed women’s suffrage in Argentina, traveled Europe as a diplomat and founded the nation’s first large-scale female political party.
In 1951, Eva announced her candidacy for the office of Vice President of Argentina, receiving great support from the Perónist political base, low-income and working class Argentines, referred to as Descamisados or "shirtless ones."
But like any heroine, she had her enemies and opposition from the nation’s military and bourgeoisie. That, coupled with her declining health, ultimately forced her to withdraw her candidacy. In 1952, shortly before her death from cancer at the age of 33, Eva was given the title of "Spiritual Leader of the Nation" by the Argentine Congress. Eva Perón was given a state funeral, an honor generally reserved for heads of state. In a fascinating twist, Perón was not buried for 20 years, due to the disappearance of her body shortly after her funeral and it did not reappear for 17 years.
The story of Evita - now couple that with Webber’s incredible music and a hit Broadway show is born.
In the Broadway touring production of "Evita," in San Diego Tuesday, November 12 through Sunday, November 17, Christopher Johnstone stars as Malgaldi and he (like me) fell in love with Evita in his early adolescence. "I was 13, Evita was the first recording I owned. I was obsessed with it and could sing through the entire musical and I dreamed of being in this show. I hadn’t seen it on stage until I auditioned for this Broadway production. Sometimes I pinch myself because it totally happened," recalls Johnstone.
He is also excited to be returning to Southern California. "I have a lot of connection to San Diego and L.A. because my family moved to Southern California after I graduated from high school. I used to work a lot with Lyric Opera and I love to surf," he continued.
Johnstone grew up in Iowa and garnered a very special musical experience there thanks to some amazing teachers. He and his brothers grew up believing it was cool to do both music and sports. "One of our elementary school teachers wrote a musical every year for the entire school so we had an introduction to musicals so early on and our parents were supportive. I continued to perform in theatre throughout high school and college. After that I kept getting jobs including opera roles. I love it. I get to meet amazing people. Like opera, musical theatre is very grand with so many diverse elements."
On this national tour Johnstone has seen his share of blooper moments. "In the last city one of the local rig ladies wandered out on to the stage right in the middle of the scene. Then in Chicago someone got popped in the face during a dance number and their lip was bleeding all over the stage. The show must go on, right? But everyone was dancing and also trying to figure out where all the blood was coming from."
Johnstone gets into character during the first song of the show - the requiem - when all the mourners have on black clothing and black veils. "At the top of the show there is an intimate embrace between Eva and Magaldi that sets up the whole night for me," says Johnstone.
Then, later in the show, there is a great moment that is all his. Just as Evita is flirting with Perón at the benefit concert, Magaldi performs his act on stage. As he comes off stage, Eva says, "Your act hasn’t changed much," and Magaldi nods toward Perón retorting, "Neither has yours." Ouch! Johnstone notes, "Magaldi is an interesting role, kind of a douche-bag and yet very important. He is Eva’s meal ticket to Buenos Aires and ultimately he allows her to begin her journey. He is also the first man whom she manipulates with her sexuality."
When asked what is next for him, Johnstone says, "I always try to have things in the works. I am heading for the Houston Symphony Orchestra for a bit and then back to Broadway. Whatever the next big thing might be. I am open to doing more TV." But left to his own dreams, Johnstone would choose to play Phantom in "Phantom of the Opera" or Billy Bigalow in "Carousel."
But for right now, Johnstone is enjoying his time on this very unique production. "This is the third generation of ’Evita.’ They got everything right. All the kinks are worked out and everything is exactly as they wanted. Every detail is in place. I believe this is the best production of Evita that has ever been done; the costume, lighting, the dance elements, the music. This production is stunning and the lighting is a star in the show as well. The whole story is easy to envision because the set is architecturally strong with windows and archways that have a heavy Argentine influence. And the singers are perfectly cast, so get ready for a great night."
"Evita" is playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre in Downtown San Diego from Tuesday, November 12 through Sunday, November 17. For tickets and more information call 619.564.3000 or go to broadwaysd.com