BWW Reviews: Pantages Presents the Definitive EVITA for Three Weeks Only
Evita/lyrics by Tim Rice/music by Andrew Lloyd Webber/choreographed by Rob Ashford/directed by Michael Grandage/tour director Seth Sklar-Heyn/tour choreographer Chris Bailey/Pantages Theatre/through November 10
Tim Rice's & Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita has had a thirty-five year international love affair with the public since it premiered in 1978 in London and in 1979 on Broadway. The newest revival currently at the Pantages until November 10 first bowed on the West End in 2006 directed by Michael Grandage and choreographed by Rob Ashford and in New York in 2012. An operetta based on Eva Duarte Peron and husband Juan Peron of Argentina, the story documents the rise to power of a simple peasant girl to the rank - almost - of Vice-President of her country. I say almost because she became too ill to accept the nomination in 1951 and passed into immortality in 1952 after a seven year reign as First Lady of Argentina which began in 1946. Evita: criminal or saint? has been the topic of books and documentaries, as she caused Argentina to go bankrupt as she fed the poor or descamisados. It doesn't really matter. She was so adored by the working class that her body was stolen from its grave and not returned for seventeen years. Saint or not, her greed and ambition mark her as one of the most fascinating women of the 20th century, whose crazed yet passionate life fits an overblown opera to the letter. She even died at 33, the age at which Jesus Christ expired. Is it any wonder that she has reached iconic - or diva - status?
This new revival tour may be the best overall production of Evita to date. The staging by Michael Grandage is taut, sleek and scaled down from the original, keeping the palace balcony clearly on display in the background throughout. Most of the action plays front, downstage, and Evita standing on the balcony at play's end looking down on her coffin, as her adoring public pay homage to her offers a chilling portrait of the image of angel/devil. Rob Ashford's choreography is brilliant. An ensemble of twenty great singers/dancers move continuously and fluidly around Eva (Caroline Bowman), Juan (Sean MacLaughlin) and Che (Josh Young). The role of narrator Che, previously played as the revolutionary Che Guevara, is altered somewhat here, making him a simple everyman, which adds intrigue and fascination, particularly when he moves from the lower stage to the balcony and crosses it with great assurance and control. Power is such an unstable commodity! He is also a reminder/mirror to Eva in the "Waltz for Eva and Che" of where she came from, and in the eyes of the military, where she belongs.
The ensemble is sensational. Bowman makes a stellar Eva - possessing much, much more than just "a little touch of star quality" - with lovely voice and consistently intense drive and fervor. She allows us to see the manipulation while still retaining Eva's enigmatic side, as it should be. Young as Che is a powerhouse actor, singer and dancer, as is MacLaughlin as Peron. Quite remarkable in this production is the maintained balance between the three, one never overstepping the other; each has several turns in the spotlight, and we feel their power equally. Krystina Alabado is outstanding as Mistress with her one number "Another Suitcase in Another Hall", and Christopher Johnstone as Magaldi is also a terrific singer who creates yet another dynamic portrait of ambition. The ensemble work together like clockwork under Grandage's and Ashford's leads, creating an indelible, unforgettable picture of the era. Christopher Oram's scenic and costume designs are stunningly authentic. Eva's many outfits in white are beautiful, a deliciously intriguing virginal choice for such a tainted woman.
When you have a great chorus of singers, they do justice to the music, making Rice's and Webber's score stand tall. "Requiem", "A New Argentina", "High Flying, Adored", "Rainbow Tour", "Don't Cry for Me Argentina"... the entire score, in fact, sounds fantastic. The inclusion of "You Must Love Me", written for the 1996 film of Evita and which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song, adds a curiously sympathetic touch to Eva's personal dilemma as she approaches her early demise.
This is indeed an Evita for the books. Well staged, well acted, danced and sung, and offering a clear glimpse into corruption in politics, it is no wonder that this political Cinderella story is still a hit after thirty-five years. It's ageless.