Step back into the world of Argentinian leaders Eva and Juan Perón as the hit musical "Evita" travels to the Robinson Center for one weekend only. The Tony Award-winning musical is celebrating its 40th anniversary of the 1979 Broadway debut with a few special treats from director Andy Ferrara. 

"Evita" charts the incredible rise of Eva from poor, illegitimate child to the wife of military leader-turned-president Juan Perón before her death from cancer at age 33. The musical includes well-known numbers like "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and "Oh What a Circus." The film version of "Evita" introduced the song "You Must Love Me," which will be included in this production. 

Ahead of the upcoming performances, we chatted with director Andy Ferrara about his favorite scene and what he loves about this production. 

Tell me about "Evita." What drew you to this production?

AF: A gentleman came to me and said, "I’d like to do 'Evita.'" We talked about it and talked about how the stage was going to be full of this screen and what’s going to be on this screen. And what’s going to make our "Evita" different.

It really comes down to the screen. There’s a screen on stage that’s basically 20 feet by 15 feet that sits on top of our unit set, the balcony. I spent over a year producing the video that goes up on that screen. It could be anything from a backdrop like a doorway or a landscape of some sort to a true video that enhances the musical number as it’s happening.

What was also really cool was that we decided early on that we really wanted to use historical footage and newsreels. A good majority of it is actual footage and photographs from the time period of Eva and her life around the world. That was kind of our take on it. Taking it to a historical level and really enhancing what the people were seeing.

Why is "Evita" still a show that resonates with people today?

AF: The only similarities I can find between her time and today’s climate is the similarities of rich people. We have in our society in general, we have a lot of very rich people that throw money around and think they can do things in their money. That’s basically what Eva did in her life. She did a lot of good things with money, but they also stole a lot of money. It’s really interesting, but it’s also kind of sad how they went through all their money and bankrupt the country — their country.

 

What makes this particular production of "Evita" special?

AF: The young lady who plays Evita, her name is Yael Reich. We auditioned both in New York and Los Angeles looking for a real strong singer-dancer actress. With Yael, we definitely found that. She really can dance, she really can sing the heck out of everything and she can really act it. Well, to me, that’s real important. It’s not something that Eva is normally known for in this show.

What one scene do you look forward to every night of the production?

AF: The first one that always comes to mind is the song "And The Money Kept Rolling In." It's about them getting money for their foundation, and they’re basically stealing money from the people of Argentina. If you worked in a factory, after you got paid they would literally stand there and take money as you walked out of the factory. If you owned the factory, they would take money from you, but they might take it in ways of whatever you’re producing in that factory.

But the way they would give back to their community was they would take those items from the factory and give them away to people. We have videos of them giving things away with their foundation, it’s one of those musical video sequences.

But on stage, they’re constantly giving away baskets and boxes and different things and all the items keep disappearing. I don’t think the audience sees it, but I see it and I think we hide it well enough that as they’re giving it away, they’re putting them in other baskets that are going away. To me, it’s fun to see everything magically appear and then disappear and then appear and then disappear. It’s one of those things that are fun for me.

 

What do you love about "Evita"?

AF: What I love about the show, first of all, it’s a beautiful show. It shows a really incredible, historical story, unlike "Guys and Dolls" [where] you go there just to be entertained and to have a good time. You know some of the tunes and they’re fun. But with "Evita," you’re really learning about these people’s lives and this country’s history in this time period.

The history within the musical is so much fun. As a history buff, going through all these photos we dug up and were able to clear on her — everything from the funeral to her singing about meeting the Pope, we literally see a picture of her meeting the Pope.

There’s another line within the song, there’s a line about how she wasn’t very popular in Italy. But when you do that research on it, it’s because Argentina was very good friends with Spain, who was very good friends with Mussolini and Hitler. When they just sing the one line, you don’t think much of it. But when you research it, you go, "Oh, that’s why." There’s a real quick picture of Franco from Spain and Hitler sitting next to each other. People may not understand why it’s there, but when you look at history, it’s quite fascinating. For me, that’s what I love about "Evita." It’s just a different level of show.

"Evita" will appear at the Robinson Center in Little Rock for four performances March 15-17 (Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.). Tickets are available and may be purchased in person at Celebrity Attractions, via phone at (501) 244-8800 or online here