As history, the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera Evita may be flawed.
But as music, dance and intriguing story, it's hard, if not impossible, to top.
Evita was created and launched in London in 1978. The 1979 Broadway debut won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. Since then, it has played to millions around the world, with a Broadway revival rumored for 2011.
Richey Suncoast Theatre opens its version of the popular show Thursday, the second time the theater has produced it. The first production was in June 1994.
"It's a really interesting show," said Charlie Skelton, who is helping to build the set, which includes a two-tiered roll-around for when Evita sings the show's most recognizable song, Don't Cry for Me, Argentina, from a balcony to hundreds gathered below.
Evita is based on the relatively brief life of the wife of Argentine President Juan Perón during the tumultuous 1940s and '50s.
It begins in 1952 as a movie theater audience learns of Evita's death, then flashes back as an anonymous narrator called Che (Rob Tilley, Tommy Award as Freddie in Chess) tells the story of Eva Duarte's rise to fame.
He starts with 15-year-old Eva wrangling her way from a dusty village to the bright lights of Buenos Aires, courtesy of a married balladeer named Magaldi (Michael Benson, Utterson in Jekyll & Hyde at Stage West Community Playhouse), then climbing her way up the business, social and political ladder "on her back."
Eva (Lexi Balestrieri, Irene in Crazy for You) becomes a famous radio personality, meets Juan at a fancy charity ball, and they agree I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You.
Eva kicks out Juan's mistress (Molly Nugent, Richey Suncoast debut), who sings the poignant Another Suitcase in Another Hall. Then the ambitious Eva marries Juan and is off to try to conquer the world's heart on the Rainbow Tour of Europe.
"She has 20 costume changes, each one nicer than the other," said Marie Skelton, who is making the costumes and doing choreography for the show.
Even though Eva is snubbed in England, she is determined to become vice president of Argentina, a significant ambition, particularly for that time and patriarchal place. Her health deteriorates, however, and she fades quickly, even as her star shines brighter in the eyes of her countrymen.
With Evita, music director Stella Gaukhshteyn is facing her most difficult challenge since she led the musical Chess during the 2007-08 season. Evita's score includes numerous styles and changes in tempo, from classical (Requiem for Evita) to ballads (High Flying, Adored), Latin (Buenos Aires) and even snippets of rock (Oh, What a Circus).
Director is Bob Reece, who won Tommy Awards — Richey Suncoast's version of Broadway's Tony Awards — as director of The Odd Couple and My Husband's Wild Desires and played Harry in Lend Me a Tenor and Seth Lord in High Society.