Chicago Theatre Review
High Flying Adored
“Any opera that begins with a funeral can’t be all bad.” That was the initial response given by Harold Prince, director of the original London and Broadway productions, when first invited to help create this piece for the stage (that began as a concept album). Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beloved, multi award-winning biographic musical, depicting the rags to riches, overnight rise to fame of Eva Peron, the controversial First Lady of Argentina, is now playing here in a first rate National Touring production. The first British musical to win a Tony Award for Best Musical has enjoyed countless regional, national and international productions, including the 2012 Broadway revival upon which this current polished Equity tour is modeled.
“Evita” is the story of one woman’s unstoppable need for popularity, power and prominence, with a taste for life’s finer things thrown in, for good measure. Eva (according to various sources) soon learned that she could use her winsomeness and feminine wiles to help in her climb up the social ladder to fame and fortune. After taking up with Magaldi, a married, semi-successful singer, Eva soon leaves her small hometown following him to Buenos Aires. There she begins sleeping her way to the top when, after achieving fame as a model and a radio and film actress, Eva meets and falls in love with Colonel Juan Peron, who is on the brink of his own political success. They recognize their similarities, quickly marry (much to the chagrin of Peron’s military advisors) and Peron is soon elected President. Eva’s critics continue to advise Peron against her role in politics as her popularity with Argentina’s common workers grows, almost elevating her to sainthood. But, just as Eva’s unquenchable thirst for power continues to drive her, she becomes seriously ill and eventually dies, leaving Peron and her people devastated.
This pop opera, filled with some of Webber’s finest and best-loved music, begins with Eva Peron’s funeral (“Requiem”) in 1952 and then circles back to 1934 with a 15-year-old Eva Duarte first discovering the hold she has over men (“Buenos Aires”). Her journey is narrated and commented upon by a fictitious commoner named Che. Mandy Patinkin created the role on Broadway and, if familiar with this score, it’s almost impossible to rid your memory of his distinctive physical and vocal portrayal. Ricky Martin’s return to Broadway as Che, while not exactly stellar, was different yet adequate.
However, Josh Young, a recent Tony nominated actor for his portrayal of Judas in the revival of Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar, stars (in every sense of the word) as Che in this production. Young has played the role at Stratford under Gary Griffin’s guidance and has much touring experience under his professional belt. But this gifted young actor is the strongest reason to see the current production now in Chicago. His vocal range is astonishing: From his deep, well-supported bass notes to a sweetly-produced falsetto that’s both solid and clear, Mr. Young has the looks, ease and voice to make this role all his own. Seldom leaving the stage, Che is not only the show’s voice, he’s its narrator, Greek chorus and often a primary participant in the action. Indeed, the loudest applause came opening night for this talented young, star-on-the-rise.
The next best reason for seeing this production is the terrific singing/dancing ensemble who double in multiple roles, from the British elite to Argentine commoners and military. Rob Ashford’s original choreography, which nicely provides variations on the Argentine tango and culture, among other dance styles, is superb; the manner in which this ensemble (kept sharp by Tour Choreographers Chris Bailey, Jennie Ford and dance captain/swing performer Ian Liberto) executes his work is outstanding.
Although perhaps a bit taller than previous Evitas, Caroline Bowman is a lovely Eva Peron and able to belt out Webber’s much-demanding score with precision and passion. That she’s an accomplished dancer allows Ms. Bowman to standout rather than fade-out during the show’s many choreographed production numbers. Christopher Johnstone is wonderful as Magaldi and, besides his luminous tenor which sends his songs spiraling to the last row, lends his talents to the show’s choreographic demands, as well. Sean Mac Laughlin appears a bit young for Peron, certainly not the older military political leader one comes to expect. However he plays Peron with an intense maturity and ultimately a sad weariness near the end that works well in this production.
While original director Michael Grandage has neglected most of the humor found in the original production, this is a sound version of Webber’s beloved early collaboration with lyricist Tim Rice. With haunting songs like “Don’t Cry for me Argentina,” “High Flying Adored,” “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” (nicely sung by Krystina Alabado as the Mistress) and “On This Night of a Thousand Stars,” this production is in every way a respectable “Rainbow Tour.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented Sept. 19-Oct. 6 by Broadway in Chicago at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 800-775-2000 or www.BroadwayinChicago.com
Additional information about this and other area shows may be found at www.theatreinchicago.com