BWW Reviews: High-Flying, Adored Revival of EVITA Hits Hollywood
"Oh, what a circus! Oh, what a show!" You can (sing) that again.
In one of this season's most pleasantly stunning surprises, the latest Broadway iteration of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's grand stage musical EVITA has arrived in Southern California with its "Rainbow Tour," specifically housed inside the appropriately ornate surroundings of the beautiful Pantages Theatre in Hollywood (its three-week L.A. tour stop concludes November 10 but returns nearby with an additional two weeks of performances in Orange County beginning December 10).
A faithful, richly layered direct transfer of the show's 2012 Tony Award-nominated revival---featuring a new trio of immensely-talented, big-voiced leads that will easily earn audiences' collective cheers---this entertaining, vibrantly refreshed production expertly blends modern sensibilities with classic staging, all while highlighting what is arguably Webber and Rice's most interesting musical collaboration.
Truth be told, of all of Webber's theatrical scores, EVITA is indeed a personal favorite, primarily because of its less overt aural lushness---it's superb ear candy achieved without the overwrought melodramatic swells of his other, curiously more popular work in other musicals (sorry PHANTOM and CATS fans, but I'm totes Team EVITA).
Gently subtle and devastatingly melancholy one moment, regal yet humorous the next, EVITA's music is a deluxe hybrid of operatic, classical, pop, and Latin genre styles that truly reflect the rise and fall of emotions that swirled around the story of its rather complex title character. In addition, EVITA also boasts some of Rice's wittiest lyrics.
For the few of you that are uninitiated, EVITA---whose original Broadway production in 1979 won seven Tony Awards including Best Musical---is a very loose re-telling of the tumultuous and rather short life of Eva Duarte Perón (now played with grace and gusto by Caroline Bowman), an aspirational, driven young woman who allegedly wooed and seduced her way out of abject poverty to grow up and become, first, a famous Argentinian actress and radio star, then, later, the publicly adored First Lady and "Spiritual Leader" of Argentina---before illness fatally cut her life short at the age of 33.
The completely sung-through musical portrays her both as a "fantasy of the bedroom"---able to manipulate men to do her every bidding---and as a saint-on-earth among the poor people of her nation, telling her fellow descamisados that they too deserve to share in the riches of their country, which was only previously reserved for the well-to-do.
Her street smarts, impassioned speeches, and political savvy (and some stuffed ballot boxes, naturally) not only helped secure the eventual election of his former army colonel husband Juan Perón (the distinguished Sean MacLaughlin) to the Presidency, but these traits also helped spurn vile criticism from the wealthy, upper-class citizens who quietly complained about her increasing political power---attained easily with very little opposition despite having such low-class roots.
And despite being responsible for plunging the country into crippling bankruptcy (while still donning shiny, expensive baubles and designer duds for show), Eva's sudden death devastated her nation's poor, who only knew her for her saintly achievements. In her passing, they've lost what they claim was their true caretaker and compassionate representative in the political process. Plus, dammit, the pretty lady handed out cash!
Of course, guiding us through all of these rapid sequences of events tracking Eva's life is the handsome omniscient narrator---and, sometimes, action agitator---Ché (the incredible Josh Young), whose winking asides and snarky running commentary is the audience's window to the alleged behind-the-Dior-veil truth.
All put together, the resulting stage musical is a multi-layered portrait of a deeply complex woman---a knowing sinner posing as a wanna-be saint. In ordinary circumstances, it's a very unlikable character. She's cunning, manipulative, petty, vengeful, even outright mean (her stern dismissal of Perón's live-in mistress was oh-so-cold). But when strikingly presented and skillfully performed, Eva Perón---that larger-than-life persona with a penchant for balcony singing---manages to charm us into submission, just as easily as she did the Argentine masses.