Story: Eva Duarte was born in 1919 in Los Toldos, Argentina, one of four children of Juana Ibaguren and Juan Duarte, who never married because Duarte had another family. Poor but ambitious, Eva moved at age 15 to Buenos Aires to become an actress. When she met Juan Peron in 1945, she was 26 and decades younger than Peron, a colonel in the military and a government official.
After their marriage Peron became president of Argentina, and ‘Evita,’ as she became known, accrued increasing power in her husband’s government as well as the love of the people. While the Perons were a handsome couple to represent Argentina, they nevertheless sent their country into an economic spiral, despite Evita’s commitment to the poor. By 1952 she was dead of cancer.
Highlights: Lyricist Tim Rice became intensely interested in Eva Peron, to the point that he traveled to Argentina to research her life and career. He worked with composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, his earlier collaborator on concept LPs Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, on a rock opera concept album titled Evita in 1976. The musical version debuted in London’s West End in 1978 and on Broadway in 1979, where it ran for nearly 1,600 performances before closing in 1983.
Evita has enjoyed nine national tours, including the current one that follows the 2012 Broadway revival that is based on the 2006 West End revival. The new version has a more distinctly Latin flavor and seems to have considerably more dancing, both pluses that make this Evita even more enjoyable than the original.
Other Info: Whereas original director Harold Prince chose to identify the show’s narrator and de facto Greek chorus, Che, as South American revolutionary leader Che Guevara, the current revival takes pains to point out that Che is an ‘everyman’ as intended by Rice for the original album. Whatever. Clearly, the show works quite well if one sees Che as Guevara, especially in a political context.
What’s more notable in this rendition is the pronounced use of dance, especially Latin themes such as the tango that add a distinct south-of-the-border flair to Rob Ashford’s engaging choreography. Indeed, one can argue that the dancing is one of the show’s four primary characters along with Evita, Che and Peron.
This is a big, splashy presentation as well. It begins with black and white footage of Eva Peron’s funeral shown on a screen above the stage. That’s one of just a few judicious moments in which projection designer Zachary Borovay inserts video into the proceedings, enough to provide realistic background to the drama unfolding on stage.
The stage itself is filled with Christopher Oram’s handsome set design, which includes a quintet of doors in the background that come into play in various scenes as well as a second tier for balcony shots. Oram also provides the sumptuous costumes that adorn the title character, while Richard Mawbey adds complementary hair and wig design.
Caroline Bowman’s voice effectively handles Lloyd Webber’s complex musical numbers in the title role, but it’s small in nature and therefore lacks power much of the time. She’s solid in the acting department, however, and leads the ensemble in several of Ashford’s dances. She also performs the dramatic tune, Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina, in affecting fashion.
Josh Young is suitably wry and mischievous as the omnipresent Che, with an ability to blend into the background to demonstrate the narrator’s knack for commentary at opportune moments. He’s a strong singer as well, showing his savvy on the early number, Oh, What a Circus or the second-act ballad, High Flying, Adored duet with Eva.
Sean McLaughlin strikes a dashing figure as the stolid but powerful Juan Peron, even if he looks too young for the role. He brings flair and substance to an often secondary part, rousing the audience with the first-act closer, A New Argentina or the second-act opener, On the Balcony of the Casa Rosada.
Krystina Alabado shines as Peron’s unceremoniously dumped mistress on perhaps the show’s best tune, Another Suitcase in Another Hall, bringing that song’s pathos to the fore, and Christopher Johnstone has a couple of moments to shine as Magaldi, the older entertainer who is used by Eva on her way to the top.
Director Michael Grandage keeps everything engaging and enchanting at a brisk pace that is accentuated with Ashford’s dance moves. Neil Austin’s lighting and Mick Potter’s sound design enhance the show, as does the musical direction of conductor William Waldrop, who oversees a fine effort by keyboardists Christian Regul and David Sawicki and drummer Adam Wolfe. As sometimes happens at The Fox, however, often lyrics are difficult to discern and sound can be muddied.
Evita, far from losing its luster, actually looks better than ever in this spirited new version that again brings Argentina’s late and beloved First Lady to the States.
Company: Touring Company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Blvd.
Dates: Through October 20
Tickets: $25-$66; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Richard Termine