Evita opens in a movie theatre in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 26, 1952. Patrons are watching a Spanish film when it is interrupted by an announcement, saying Eva Perón, has died ("A Cinema in Buenos Aires, 26 July 1952"). The film audience enters into mourning, singing, in Latin, "Requiem for Evita.” A young revolutionary, Ché, the show’s narrator, watches the mourners and comments on their grief, and the state of Argentina’s culture and politics, and Eva’s influence at the time of her death ("Oh What a Circus").
Introducing a flashback that becomes the main plot of the musical, Ché leads the audience to an Argentinian rural suburb. There, in a nightclub, a 15-year-old Eva Duarte is the lover of lounge singer Agustín Magaldi (“On This Night of a Thousand Stars"). Reminding him of their relationship, Eva and her family—the second, illegitimate family of her father—blackmails Magaldi into taking her with him to Buenos Aires. He warns her of the dangers of the city, and cautions her against unfeminine ambition, but she presses him, and he eventually brings her along ("Eva, Beware of the City"). On her way to/when she arrives in Buenos Aires, Eva declares her desire for an ambitious future as a successful actress, and her desire to live a fast-paced, exciting life ("Buenos Aires"). Now in the fast-paced, powerful city, Eva quickly abandons Magaldi for better connections for her career, and wealth. Ché tells how she uses her feminine wiles to engage men who help her find success as a model, then a radio star, and finally, an actress ("Goodnight and Thank You"). Ché then turns his attention to the political climate, reminding the audience of the historic military coup of 1943. He implies that Eva’s new skyrocketing career, and the rapidly power-gaining Colonel Juan Perón, may coincide ("The Lady's Got Potential"). The military leaders play a musical (and literal) game of musical chairs,