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You don’t go commissioning a world premiere musical about Eva Perón’s mummified corpse without at least a vague presentiment that the result might flirt with irreverence. Whether or not the Gala folks banked on the amount of sheer, unapologetic goofiness that gets served up in Mummy in the Closet: The Return of Eva Perón, however, is harder to know.
Of course, composer Mariano Vales and playwright Gustavo Ott didn’t have to lean too hard on historical events to find deep, abiding weirdness. The true story of what happened to Eva Perón after her death is a tale that comes pre-installed with the full Magic Realism options package: mummified by Juan Perón; hidden away when his government fell; battered; despoiled; spirited out of the country by the Vatican. Only thing missing is butterflies.
Director Mariano Caligaris frontloads the evening with energy and broad—and I do mean broad—comic set pieces: That coterie of effeminate stylists who mince onstage to makeover Eva’s (Laura Conforte) mummy, for example, might as well have been lifted from a rerun of El Chapulín Colorado.
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Yet most of the jokes land (especially those pitched by Martin Ruiz, in several roles). As the coolly creepy Dr. Ara, Ruiz’s loving and cleverly written aria to his embalming fluids sets the tone for most of what follows. That tone: a quirk-addled mix of devout hagiography (where Eva is concerned) and gleeful satire (everything else.)
Like its titular corpse, however, Momia en el Closet slowly decays with the passage of time—a second-act scene involving Perón’s second wife, Isabella (Belén Oyola-Rebaza), and a spiritualist (Diego Mariani) goes on too long, and when the evening’s mood takes a turn for the dolorous just before the curtain, it feels unearned, as if the production were trying to make up for its earlier penchant for The Wack.
But even then, the thing never stops looking and sounding great: Designer Mariana Fernández’s set consists of a large workers’ mural that continually divides, revolves, and reforms like a great Peronist puzzle. Vales’ often soaring music incorporates atonal elements without ever losing its groove.
As Eva, Conforte’s the most fluidly alive corpse you’re likely to come across, and her supple-limbed tango with Juan Perón (Antonio Soto) is the evening’s highlight. The actress holds herself with a stiffness that suggests the grave but slowly allows the music, and the man, to bend her long form. It’s as if Eva is gently unfurling herself for us, to reveal the woman she was in life, one last time