Review: New 'Evita' With a Latin Beat Pulses With Energy
When Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice first created Evita, they made the curious decision to write the musical from an Anglo perspective rather than a Latin one, believing audiences weren’t familiar enough with Latin culture to “get it.” Any Latin-influence in the music or movement was downplayed or eliminated altogether. Luckily, the version playing at the Fox, presented by Dance St. Louis, is a direct descendant the 2006 London recreation of the musical, which looked not to the original stage production for inspiration, but even further back to the original concept album. The result is a rich, masterful show, lavishly infused with Argentinian culture. From its pulsating, energetic rhythms to the confident haughtiness of the choreography, this production’s heart pulses to the beat of a Latin drum.
Eva Duarte grew up poor but traveled to Buenos Aires at age 15 and found a certain amount of fame as a television, radio and film actress. But power was her real Spanish fly, and to get it she literally slept her way to the top, culminating when Colonel Juan Perón—whom she had married one year prior—was elected president of Argentina. The people loved her and she championed their causes, which endeared her to the people even more. She was not so loved by the military or others in power, who were born into their positions. How dare a commoner rise up to become one of them? As one official sniffs, “Statesmanship is more than entertaining peasants.”
Caroline Bowman as Eva Perón—whom the people affectionately call Evita—brings emotional depth to the role, along with an effervescence that helps explain the people’s adoration. She also proves herself a competent singer and skilled dancer with Rob Ashford’s expanded choreography, which is rife with Latin flair, passion and tangos. Her perfect match is Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Perón. There is obvious chemistry between them, and as Evita’s cancer-stricken end draws near (with Bowman showing nice physical acting skills), MacLaughlin conveys the full import, dignified but distraught, knowing that as Evita goes, so goes Argentina.
Josh Young plays Che—formerly known as Che Guevara who is now, the producers tell us, simply an embodiment of the Argentinian people—with great flair and skill, and his voice is perfect for the demanding role. There are also nice turns by Christopher Johnstone as Magaldi and Krystina Alabado as a former mistress of Juan Perón. The entire cast is terrific, both vocally and as dancers, and Michael Grandage’s purposeful direction drives the play toward its inevitable conclusion.
The iconic number in the show, ”Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,” sung from the balcony of the Presidential Palace Casa Rosada, is heart-rending. It doesn’t hurt that Webber and Rice are at their songwriting best, but Bowman performs the song with maximum heightened nuance and passion. Rice’s lyrics live through her. Can we blame her for not being content to spend her life “looking out of the window, staying out of the sun?” Or forgive her “her wild days, her mad existence?” Of course we can, and we do. This is a very strong and impactful production of “Evita” that keeps its promise. Don’t keep your distance.
“Evita” continues at the Fox through Oct. 20, 2013. For tickets and information visit the Fabulous Fox website.