Sunday, October 13, 2013

EVITA • The Fox

"Evita" began as a rock opera released in 1976.  After lyricist Tim Rice became fascinated with Eva Perón through a radio program, he approached Andrew Lloyd Webber with the idea of a musical based on her life, and Lloyd Webber eventually took him up on it.  The success of the concept album they collaborated on led to a West End premiere in 1978, and a Broadway debut the following year that received seven Tony Awards out of ten nominations.

The musical follows Eva Duarte's iconic rise to power from a lower-middle-class outcast to the adored second wife of Argentine President, Juan Perón.  It begins, and ends, somberly with the death of Evita Perón, and the ensuing outpouring of grief.  From these opening moments, the play, through flashbacks, immediately sucks the audience into the life of this woman, who was deeply loved and revered as a saint by so many in Argentina, and seen by others as a narcissistic social climber.

Caroline Bowman is strong with an impressive vocal range in a formidable role, and particularly charming as the young Eva Duarte, who sets her sights on Buenos Aires and a tango singer named Augustin Magaldi (Christopher Johnstone).
Christopher Johnstone (Magaldi)
and Caroline Bowman (Eva).
Photo credit: Richard Termine
During "Eva And Magaldi" Eva sings of her longing to get out of her small town, make it in the big city, and stick it to the middle-classes, whom she resented for turning her away at her father's funeral -- kicked out by his other family's relatives.  Once in Buenos Aires, Eva doesn't stay on the arm of Magaldi for long, and after connecting "under" the right men, she becomes a successful radio actress, and meets an ambitious Colonel named Juan Perón (Sean MacLaughlin).  Their mutual ambition leads to marriage and his election as President, on the platform of working for the "descamisados" -- the working class citizens of Argentina.  On the opposite end of the Perón's political philosophies and serving as our cynical narrator is Che, played by a splendid Josh Young.  The spell Eva casts on the nation is lost on Che, who regards her as an egocentric opportunist working inside a corrupt political system for selfish reasons.  While Eva started foundations for the poor, she represented Argentina abroad like a walking fashion plate, as the lyrics to "Rainbow High" attest ("I'm their product, it's vital you sell me, So Machiavell me, make an Argentine Rose…").  And the people were sold, although she was never able to win the hearts of the aristocratic upper classes.

Caroline Bowman (Eva)
and Josh Young (Che).
Photo credit: Richard Termine
Even though Che remained convinced her act was all a scam, she was given the official title of "Spiritual Leader of the Nation" shortly before she died from cancer at the age of 33.  Whether or not Evita's motivations were fueled by a genuine desire to raise up the poor of Argentina, or to fuel her own ambition, is craftily left up to the audience to decide.

This ambiguous, yet compelling representation of Evita's life continues to engage and excite in this production, which is based on a 2006 revival directed by Michael Grandage.  This re-imagined production of "Evita" included a song from the 1996 film ("You Must Love Me"), placed a strong emphasis on dance, and polished the whole thing to a high gloss.  While the choreography provided for the tour by Chris Bailey is incredible, for me, it muffles a level of intensity from the edgier aspects of the show, suppressing some of the storytelling.  While much of the heat is lavished on the dance numbers, it's drained from the connections between the characters.  Still, the performances are solid and Lloyd Webber's Latin, rock and Broadway flavored score full of remarkable musical themes remains just as savory.
Caroline Bowman (Eva).
Photo credit: Richard Termine
In one of the most recognizable and thrilling numbers in the show, "Don't Cry For Me Argentina", Evita pours out her love of the people who have accepted her, and they hauntingly take over her chorus by humming it back to her near the end of the song, in a musical display of mutual love.  God I love that part.  Young gives Che a rich, deep voice and threatens to overshadow when he's onstage.  MacLaughlin was a little short on chemistry with Bowman, but he holds his own in the role of Juan Perón, while Krystina Alabado delivers a beautifully poignant "Another Suitcase In Another Hall" as the young mistress of Perón's who's kicked out by Eva.  In addition to the leads, the ensemble members were strong voiced and executed the choreography stylishly.  The score soars with an excellent orchestra, and Zachary Borovay's projection design enhances the early scenes of Evita's state funeral.  Neil Austin steeps Christopher Oram's sets with a striking lighting design, with Oram also providing the costumes.

Caroline Bowman (Eva), Josh Young (Che),
Sean MacLaughlin (Perón) and the tour cast of EVITA
Photo credit: Richard Termine
This is a wonderful opportunity to see "Evita" on a grand scale.  If you've never seen it, go see it.  If you have, go see it again for a beautifully rendered, if not glossy, portrait of the life of this most interesting figure.  It's playing at the Fox until the 20th.


EVITA

Book/lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Seth Skylar-Heyn
Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
through October 20 | tickets: $25 - $85
Performances Tuesday to Saturday 8pm, Thursday Oct. 17 at 1pm, Saturdays at 2pm, Sundays at 1pm, Sunday Oct. 13 at 6:30pm

The cast of EVITA
Photo credit: Richard Termine
Cast:
Caroline Bowman (Eva), Josh Young (Che), Sean MacLaughlin (Perón), Desi Oakley (Eva Alternate), Christopher Johnstone (Magaldi), Krystina Alabado (Mistress, Ensemble), Ryan K. Bailer (Ensemble),Nicholas Belton (Ensemble), Jessica Bishop (Ensemble), Ronald L. Brown (Ensemble), Holly Ann Butler (Ensemble), Diana DiMarzio (Ensemble), Samantha Farrow (Ensemble), Katharine Heaton (Ensemble), Tony Howell (Ensemble), Katie Huff (Ensemble), Patrick Oliver Jones (Ensemble), Chris Kotera (Ensemble), Ian Liberto (Swing, Dance Captain), Alison Mahoney (Ensemble), Robin Masella (Swing, Assistant Dance Captain), Megan Ort (Ensemble), John Riddle (Ensemble), Morgan Rose (Swing), Jeffrey C. Sousa (Ensemble) and Tug Watson (Swing).

Creative:
Tour Choreography by Chris Bailey, associate choreography by Jennie Ford, scenic & costume design by Christopher Oram,  lighting design by Neil Austin, sound design Mick Potter, wig and hair design by Richard Mawbey,  projection design by Zachary Borovay, makeup design by Jason Goldsberry, production stage manager, Bonnie Panson, stage manager, Michael Rico Cohen. 

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