Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Theater Review: Evita -- The Bushnell

Sean MacLaughlin as 'Juan Peron' and Caroline Bowman as 'Eva Peron' in the National Tour of Evita. Photo by Richard Termine
Solid Voices Lead Newest Version of Evita
By Lauren Yarger
Evita, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sweeping tale of the rise of Eva Peron from bed-hopping gold digger to First Lady of Argentina, got its first Broadway revival a few seasons ago and the tour, with its revamped staging and orchestrations is making a stop at The Bushnell.

Caroline Bowman stars as Eva Duarte Perón, the actress/radio personality/first lady who wins the hearts of the people of Argentina through the Great Depression and war years. Born in slums, she dreams of stardom in the big city of Buenos Aires and finds her ticket out with lounge singer Agustin Magaldi (Christopher Johnstone), the first of many men she uses to acquire wealth and position. The show’s “Good Night and Thank You,” depicting the revolving door of her lovers, is one of its more humorous numbers.

The line of men stops, however, when she meets Juan Perón (Sean MacLaughlin), one of the inner circle of generals (Ryan K. Bailer, Ronald L. Brown, Matt Stokes) leading the nation’s politics. Eva promptly fires Perón’s Mistress (Krystna Alabado, who ably delivers “Another Suitcase, Another Hall”), and starts her influence while stirring up support for him among the listeners of her radio program. Perón becomes President, and Eva shines as First Lady, despite the disapproval of the aristocracy, making a glamorous “Rainbow Tour” to impress Europe. She creates a foundation, ostensibly to help the dreams of a few poor people come true and the common people’s adoration of her swells.

Critic and chief story teller Che (Max Quinlan) is a lone voice of dissention, however.  The “Money Kept Rolling In,” but he questions where some of it went.

Evita is one of my favorite scores. Most Broadway nerds have been singing along with the original Broadway soundtrack featuring Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin since 1980 when the show won six Tony Awards. Subsequent versions of it have been less satisfying, for us buffs, however. First there was a movie version starring Madonna and Antonio Banderos (I skipped that one). Unfortunately, a song created especially for Madonna, “You Must Love Me,” survives and has been inserted into the revival of the stage production.

The 2012 Broadway revival was hyped with Elena Roger, an Argentinian native, as Eva and pop music heart throb Ricky Martin as Che.  It got mixed reviews, including a less-than-enthusiastic one from me prompted by Roger’s inability to belt the Lloyd Weber notes and rather annoying updates to the show.

Orchestrations are too exact now and the score and its orchestra, musically directed by Robert Meffe, loses its oomph.  In addition, Che’s role is made somewhat more nebulous and less passionate.  Quinlan carefully and precisely sings the role, but we don’t get his disgust. Drips of sarcasm are missing in the storytelling.

As directed by Michael Grandage, there is little interaction between Che and Eva, making their waltz more puzzling than confrontation. There also is no sexual tension between Eva and Peron (and  though MacLaughin sings beautifully, he is too young for the role).  There is far too much other action demanding our attention however, with awkward staging that has actors walking around, seemingly for the purpose of getting into position. And the choreography. That’s another story. Here’s what I wrote after seeing the Broadway revival:

“Also disappointing is Rob Ashford's more-is-not-better choreography. With the exception of ‘Buenes Aires’ which employs the full ensemble to create the hustle and bustle of the capital city while skillfully and subtly separating the people into groups of peasants, soldiers and aristocrats, the choreography seems too much, distracts from the action and does little to propel the story. The ballet/wrestling match of "The Art of the Possible" seems almost comical.”

The tour’s choreography is just plain distracting. I didn’t notice the separation of classes here. I did notice Eva’s death bed and even a dying Eva herself being twirled about a lot, though…..

The strong vocals, and Bowman’s robust performance (in this, the tour has the Broadway revival beat) make this worth watching, however. Any time you have an excuse to hear a Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice show well performed, take it.

Evita plays through Sept. 28. Performances are Wednesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at  2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets $26-$85:  (860) 987-5900;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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