BWW Reviews: Don't Cry for EVITA
When Evita premiered on Broadway in 1979, it sat in a similar position as it does now: in a medium known for lighter fare, it seeks to tell a fairly unusual tale. And yet, the original Broadway production won multiple Tony awards and its' popularity spurred a 2012 Broadway revival and a current national tour that recently played in Des Moines.
Evita, written by musical masters Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, tells the story of Eva Duarte, who uses cunning and guile to rise from the Argentine slums, eventually becoming the first lady. While Eva's power within the Argentine government rankles the establishment, it makes her a saint to the working class. The controversy surrounding her power continues even after her tragic death at age thirty-three.
Eva's trajectory is not lacking complications, and for those unfamiliar with the story of Eva Perón, Evita's style certainly does nothing to assist with the audience's understanding. The accents and the rock opera style require that audiences be highly in tune with each turn of phrase, lest details and character identification be missed.
That said, the audience will find ready distraction from the story in the fantastic design. To great effect, the show projects archival footage from Eva's lofty European outing and her later funeral procession at several points throughout the show. The footage reinforces the sense of power Eva felt she possessed and her positive effect, real or not, on Argentina and the world. Additionally, all elements of the costume design are perfectly in tune with the time period and the set transitions nicely from nightclub to presidential palace.
The music of Evita does not hold to the typical musical theater style. Because the show is in a rock opera style, many of the songs feel more akin to interludes where a sliver of dialogue would seem more expedient in moving the story forward. The most pleasant song is "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" sung by Peron's mistress after Eva throws her out on the street. "Suitcase" has the sensibility of a song sung by a down on their luck character before they rise triumphantly at the height of the show. Alas, the story of the mistress is not one we will know. The show's signature song, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," is effective yet unexpectedly subdued. Audiences will no doubt find themselves humming the tunes hours after the curtain has fallen.
Tony nominee Josh Young, in the role of the narrator Che, leads the cast, and his performance is heads and shoulders above the others. Young brings naturalism, expression, and proficiency that some of the other performances seem to lack. Caroline Bowman, as Eva, possesses a strong voice, and while the work in the upper register felt strained, some responsibility for that is undoubtedly due to the arrangement. The ensemble nicely supported the show's style and skillfully carried out the Latin-tinged dance numbers.
Evita has a unusual quality, but perhaps that is what makes it stand out. The fact that the subject matter is not ripe for a musical retelling mirrors Eva's unlikely position at the top. If you have not yet seen the show, dry your tears, the national tour may well stop in a city near you.