Sterling star makes for a gorgeous ‘Evita’
If Eva Peron has achieved immortality as a sex goddess and a saint, it is partly a credit to her own mythmaking and partly due to composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
His sumptuous musical, “Evita,” captures in one epic sweep Eva’s rise from actor to Madonna-like pop star to a saintly figure revered by Argentina’s poor.
The ghost of Eva may also thank director Michael Grandage, whose excellent revival of the musical opened Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.
Grandage gets a sterling star performance by Caroline Bowman. In portraying the ruthless, power-grabbing figure, Bowman may be as good as Patti LuPone, the show’s original Broadway star.
I have a soft spot for LuPone —she was one of the first stars I saw on Broadway, and her performance remains the standard by which this role is measured — but fair is fair.
Bowman has powerful chops, great acting skills and tremendous presence. Eva is morally complex — the society women of Argentina call her “slut” — and the actor draws us into her orbit and has us rooting for her lofty dreams.
Bowman is well-matched by Josh Young, a singer with deep wells of warmth and charm who plays sardonic narrator Che.
The starring trio is rounded out by Sean MacLaughlin, whose Juan Peron is pillar around whom Eva wraps herself like a lovely vine.
“Evita” is a stage biography of a girl born out of a wedlock. Her mother was a mistress whose patron died. Eva grows up poor in the Argentine countryside. At 15, she meets a tango singer, Magaldi (Christopher Johnstone), who is a handy ticket to Buenos Aires. There, she uses a series of lovers until, at a charity event, she meets military man Juan Peron, who also cheats his way up.
They dance a tango as she sings “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You.”
The two marry, to the consternation of the military and high society, and he becomes president. Eventually her health fails and she dies.
This new staging of “Evita,” which has lyrics by Tim Rice and is designed by Christopher Oram, has been deepened with the use of tango. There’s a slow, mournful tango at the top, a courtship tango and tango as enchantment. Choreographer Rob Ashford uses Argentina’s national dance throughout the show. Though it works, it could be cut back.
Another edit should be the song “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” delivered by Juan Peron’s mistress (she has no name in the show) after she is dismissed by Eva. This is not a knock against the actor, Krystina Alabado, who sells the song well. It is just she is out of place and context.
This is a gorgeous “Evita,” and you leave the theater humming the sweet strains of Eva’s signature song. Go ahead and cry for her, Argentina.
– Rohan Preston Star Tribune