Broadway in Chicago has opened Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award®-winning musical “Evita” at the Oriental Theatre for a limited engagement through October 6, 2013. Directed by Tony and Olivier Award-winner Michael Grandage and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Rob Ashford, this is the first new Broadway production of the seven-time Tony Award-winning musical since it debuted on Broadway over 30 years ago.
“Evita” dramatizes the live of Eva Duarte who rose to prominence in the late 1940s as the wife of Juan Peron, president of Argentina. Eva Peron used her beauty and charisma to rise meteorically from the slums of Junin to the presidential mansion in Buenos Aires as First Lady. Adored by her people as a champion for the poor, she became one of the most powerful women in the world – while her greed, outsized ambition, and fragile health made her one of the most tragic. “Evita” tells Eva’s passionate and unforgettable true story, and features some of the theater’s most beautiful songs, including “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” and “High Flying Adored.”
This national tour of “Evita” stars Caroline Bowman as Eva Peron, Tony nominated Josh Young as Che and Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Peron. The cast also features Desi Oakley as the alternate for Eva, Christopher Johnstone as Magaldi and Krystina Alabado as the Mistress.
I was invited to attend the show on Thursday, September 19 and joined a nearly sold-out audience for a wonderful evening in the theater. Overall, this is a well-conceived, tremendously powerful production.
As Eva Peron, Caroline Bowman provides a forceful, engaging, and “star quality” performance. Some of her finest moments come when Eva is at her weakest and most vulnerable. Bowman manages to give us a layered, complex portrayal of the enigmatic personality of Eva Peron. Vocally, she seemed a bit strained in Act One during some of Eva’s relentless belting numbers. By Act Two, when we are treated to some of the show’s most iconic numbers (“Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and “Waltz for Eva and Che”) she was in fine voice and the strain was no longer evident. One of her finest vocal moments was in “You Must Love Me,” a song that was not in the original Broadway score but was added to the movie and now appears in this production. Personally, I do not think this song fits into the show nor does it add anything necessary to the dramatic narrative. Nevertheless, Bowman sings it with a grace and elegance that makes it work.
Sean MacLaughlin is a superb Peron – charismatic, attractive, and with superior vocal talent. I found myself wishing, as often I have during productions of “Evita,” that Juan Peron had a larger singing role. MacLaughlin sometimes appears to be a bit young in comparison with Eva, but this is a minor flaw in an otherwise excellent performance.
One of the most beautiful musical moments in the show is always “Another Suitcase In Another Hall.” In this production, Krystina Alabado provides a truly exceptional moment for the audience. Her voice is clear and lovely, her performance clean and understated, and the deep pain of her character is all the stronger for her delightfully understated performance. At her song ended, I glanced around and found that everyone surrounding me was mesmerized, rightfully so.
The standout performance in this production goes to Josh Young as Che. Rarely have I heard a better performance of this challenging musical role. Young’s voice moves effortlessly into the upper levels of the “rock tenor” range but he also retains a warm, baritone quality in the middle and lower parts of his voice. His approach to Che was much lighter than many I have seen, and somehow a bit mischievous. He was likeable, even in his more aggressive moments.
The physical production is gorgeously conceived. In particular, the lighting design by Neil Austin deserves a special bow. The set by Christopher Oram, most specifically the wonderful façade/balcony of the Casa Rosada, is spectacular.
Costumes were also designed by Christopher Oram and my only design issues come in this area. Eva was consistently dressed in nearly incandescent white. This, added to an essentially monochromatic palette for all of the costumes, created a largely colorless landscape on stage. All of Eva’s clothing was gorgeous and period-correct, but this relentless visual image of her in pristine white somehow left me feeling that the director wanted to make her a saint in the eyes of the audience.
In my estimation, the audience should really be left with a question about whether they like Eva or not and in this production, the director clearly wants us to like her, feel sorry for her, and sympathize with her. The addition of “You Must Love Me” further advances this energy of sympathy and casts Eva in the role of victim, something that (dramatically) simply doesn’t work well for me.
Despite a few criticisms, however, I can highly recommend this production. For anyone who has never seen the stage version of “Evita” or for anyone who has only a passing knowledge of the show, this is a wonderful version and you should certainly take advantage of this limited run.
Tickets for “Evita” at the Oriental Theatre range from $27 – $95. Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Kiosk at Water Tower Place (845 N. Michigan Ave.), the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations, and online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com.