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Petite, girly Sarah Litzsinger, who plays Eva Perón in the musical Evita, says she identifies more with the power-hungry, manipulative First Lady of Argentina than with Belle, the imprisoned Beauty and the Beast heroine she portrayed on Broadway for two years. “My friends would tell me [after watching Beauty], ‘You’re really acting up there, because that’s really not you,’” she laughs. “Getting in touch with some of that anger and hostility in Evita is a great way to get things out. I’m certainly not an evil person. But I could be.”

The Tony-hogging Evita, which opens at the Palace Theatre tonight, tells the story of the charismatic wife of Argentina dictator Juan Perón and her political rise — all set to music by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s a tale with conflicting sides: Was Perón (affectionately called Evita by the poor people who adored her) a scheming post-World War II careerist? Or did she really care about the impoverished citizens of the nation ruled by her militaristic husband? Either way, she was a pioneering feminist, says Litzsinger. “She was charismatic, she had ambition,” she says. “It was unheard of for a woman to go as far as she did in the political scene during that time period. So many people loved her, and so many other people couldn’t stand her. There was such a great divide about how people felt about her. That’s why her story is so compelling.”

The thirtysomething Litzsinger — who made her Broadway debut at age 11 in Marilyn: An American Fable — researched the role by reading Perón bios. “I wanted to get an idea of her dynamics,” she says. “She didn’t want to show insecurity, so she came off as mean.” Yet Litzsinger found inspiration in Rice and Webber’s script. “They believed in her,” she says.

Still, Litzsinger admits, she’s no closer to figuring out who the real Eva Perón was. All she knows is that in a stage career that’s included Broadway roles in Oliver! , Les Misèrables, and Beauty and the Beast (her two-year stint as Belle ranks as the show’s longest-running), Evita comes close to topping them all. “I had never seen Evita until I got cast in it,” she says. “But it’s a delicious role. I’m a very feisty person, so I can really relate to the character. Nobody expects this hostility to come out of me.”
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