BWW Reviews: A New EVITA Missed a Few Notes
Maybe it's just that Minneapolis' own CABARET by Theatre Latte Da/Hennepin Theatre Trust was so flawless that nothing else could match up within a little more than week passed, but the new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice's EVITA just did not have the same passion and presence for this reviewer.
Comparisons aside, EVITA had high points. The highest was Josh Young's Che. Soaring vocals, charming "everyman" persona -- a change back to the original concept of the way the character was originally written (using Che Guevara as an inspiration for the role was a choice made by original director Hal Prince) -- this Tony-Award nominee was the narrator to the story of Eva Duarte de Peron, who, as a teen, left the slums of Junin, Argentina, to follow her lover to Buenos Aires, where she climbed the social ladder by "romancing" a series of more and more powerful men until she met and married future president Juan Peron. Che follows her story from her funeral back to her beginnings and throughout her brief but fiery life until to her death of cancer at a young 33. Young's performance was engaging and had just the right amount of humor. Charming -- the word keeps popping back to mind for the character and the actor who played him.
The move to more authenticity for the Argentinan history and Latin culture was also welcome. Beyond the Che change, the re-orchestrated music had a bit more Latin flair and Rob Ashford's choreography included more tango, though at times it seemed like there was a bit too much added. The design, inspired by Argentine architecture, was regal and stunning in its scale, while very simple in staging.
Caroline Bowman's Eva had her moments - she was strongest on her solos, "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You," and the celebrated, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." Other times her voice seemed a bit screechy or overly high, which could be the way it was written because the other songs dominated by the casts' female voices also had a similarly screechy quality. Still, for the sheer amount of singing Eva does, Bowman did well keeping up with the volume of stage time.
Her portrayal also had an air of bitchiness -- while Eva could put on airs in front of her followers, she quickly turned back to her non-public persona and showed what was behind her drive for power and fame. Those flashes of a less desirable Eva made the character less sympathetic, though they may have been more accurate in reality. Eva Peron may have been more like this new EVITA when not in the public eye but it made seeing her as "Santa Evita" more challenging. Previous incarnations of the show and countless hours of listening to the adoring music leave one with the impression of a beloved heroine of the people but this re-telling is more grounded in history and maybe that's a good thing. At least, it's probably more honest in this modern world where we see the good, bad and the ugly of most of our icons in a 24-hour news cycle that did not exist in her time.
The role of Eva Peron is one of the most demanding female leads in musical theatre; Bowman handled it well enough and looked the part. Juan Peron, solidly played by Sean MacLaughlin, was a mere prop for his wife.
The production looked great. It moved along well in Act I. Act II was slow and long, yet felt a bit frantic at times with Bowman jumping through hoops to quickly move through Eva's life as First Lady of Argentina. While the cultural changes were positive additions, the score missed some notes musicially and the dancing was sometimes overdone. The overall result did not wow... it was a pretty good production of an epic show.