By Andrew Lloyd Webber (music), Tim Rice (lyrics)
A perfectly serviceable rendition of a pop-rock musical classic
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
Review by Catey Sullivan
Of all the endings of all the musicals that were ever writ, Evita‘s is surely the oddest. As this is a bio-musical (loosely) based on historical fact, it’s not a spoiler to note that Argentina’s iconic First Lady dies at the end. After her demise, Che Guavera somberly tells the audience that a tomb was planned to house the power blonde in the hereafter – but only the pedestal was completed, Che adds. And then, he gravely intones, her "body disappeared for 17 years." Curtain.
I’ve seen Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice‘s (lyrics) Evita more than a dozen times over the past 30 years. And I still can’t quite wrap my mind around this curious ending. How did the body "disappear"? Who found it? Where was the dang thing from her death in 1952 through the late 1960s? Is there an untold story of South American grave robbers buried with the elusive corpse? And if so, wouldn’t that make for a killer tango number in Webber’s warhorse? Such are the queries that might keep one up at night every time Evita rolls through town.
In its latest touring incarnation (which began last year on Broadway with Ricky Martin as the rabble rousing Che), Evita largely retains its splendor and verve, even if this version of Che (Josh Young) doesn’t quite exude the fiery, dangerous defiance the role demands. Che isn’t the only key cast member who sounds fantastic but looks a bit wrong. As Evita, Caroline Bowman delivers ferocious vocals, ably mastering the relentless belting Webber’s score demands. But she looks altogether too polished and Disney princess-wholesome, especially in the early scenes that establish the 15-year-old Eva as a ruthlessly ambitious, sexually aggressive schemer.
In the musical’s telling, Evita starts out as a tough-as-nails teen willing to do anything – and anyone – in order to rise above the lower class strata she was born into. She’s Machiavellian from her opening number in a no-name nightclub out in the "sticks," more than willing to blackmail the tango-singer Augustin Magaldi (Christopher Johnstone, floridly embodying the quintessential lounge lizard) into taking her to Buenos Ares. Bowman is a musical powerhouse, but she’s more Snow White than calculating temptress in the first act, and she retains that unfortunate essence of ingenue throughout. As for Sean McLaughlin‘s Juan Perón, he looks a tad boyish to be believable as a ruthless dictator.
Still, despite the shortcomings of the cast, tour director Seth Sklar-Heyn and choreographer Chris Bailey (both of whom based their work on the Broadway production’s director Michael Grandage and choreographer Rob Ashford) have crafted a compelling, sumptuous production. The tango numbers, often seen in twilit silhouette, create an ambiance of undeniable passion and bring a striking, painterly beauty to the production. The tour’s production values are also first rate, from the stunning black-and-white news footage of a country in mourning following Evita’s death to the grandeur of the Casa Rosada balcony so crucial to the iconic "Don’t Cry for Me Argentina" scene.
Obsessive Evita fans will notice that there’s been a few notable edits to the show: Gone is opening scene movie theater where Argentines learn of Evita’s death. Ditto the bit about the Argentine vs. England polo match. In their place is additional music and dialogue created for the 1997 film. Ultimately, Evita sounds good, looks good and is, on balance , a perfectly serviceable rendition of a pop-rock musical classic.
Evita continues through October 6th at Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph (map). Tickets are $27-$95, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online through Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at BroadwayinChicago.com. (Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Richard Termine
Caroline Bowman (Evita), Josh Young (Che), Sean MacLaughlin (Perón), Desi Oakley (Eva alternate), Christopher Johnstone (Migaldi), Krystina Alabado (Mistress, ensemble), Ryan K. Bailer, Nicholas Belton, Jessica Bishop, Ronald L. Brown, Holly Ann Butler, Diana DiMarzio, Samantha Farrow, Katharine Heaton, Tony Howell, Katie Huff, Patrick Oliver Jones, Chris Kotera, Ian Liberto, Alison Mahoney, Megan Ort, John Riddle, Jeffrey C. Sousa (ensemble), Robin Masella (swing, asst. dance captain), Morgan Rose, Tug Watson (swing)
behind the scenes
Seth Skylar-Heyn (tour director), Chris Bailey (tour choreographer), Jennie Ford (asst. choreographer), Christopher Oram (scenic design, costume design), Neil Austin (lighting design), Mick Potter (sound design), Richard Mawbey (wig and hair design), Zachary Borovay (projection design), Telsey + Company (casting), Jason Goldsberry (makeup design), David Cullen (orchestrator), Kristen Blodgette (music supervisor), William Waldrop (music director, conductor, asst. music supervisor), David Chase (dance arrangements), Timothy R. Mackabee (asst. set design), Amanda Seymour (asst. costume design), Kristina Kloss (asst. lighting design), Tony Smolenski (asst. sound design), Driscoll Otto (asst. projection design), Jenny Pendergraft (wig and hair supervisor), David Lai, Talitha Fehr (music coordinators), Stuart Andrews (synthesizer programmer), Bonnie Panson (production stage manager), Michael Rico Cohen (stage manager), Trey Johnson (asst. stage manager), MB Productions (technical supervisor), Ryan P. Murphy (production coordinator), Joe Christopher (general manager), Hal Luftig, Troika Entertainment, Randall A. Buck, James L. Nederlander, Terry Allen Kramer, Anthony Nicholson, Tom & Connie Walsh, Roy Furman, Yasuhiro Kawana, Allan S. Gordon, Adam S. Gordon, Rainbow Tour Productions, Michael J. Moritz, Pittsburgh CLO, John & Diane Chachas, Glass Half Full Productions, Ricardo Hornos, Scott Sanders Productions, Carol Fineman, Brian Smith, Warren Trepp (producers), Richard Termine (photos).