When a show has been stunning audiences for more than 35 years with music so recognizable that people hum the main tunes in the shower, and the brightest stars on Broadway have blown audiences away with their performances, it becomes difficult to find something new to say. Thankfully, the current version of Evita on stage at the Durham Performing Arts Center March 11-16 makes it easy.
Newly directed by Tony® and Olivier Award winner Michael Grandage and choreographed by Tony Award winner Rob Ashford, this version of Evitabrings back some of the original elements and showcases them. For example, the character of Ché, played by Josh Young, represents the “everyman of the lower working class … the voice of the people, not Ché Guevara.”
But that’s not enough. When a character is strong and representative of a metaphor, the only way it works is if the talent takes over the music. Thankfully, Young does that. In spades. His voice is powerful, passionate and articulated. Every word is spoken with confidence and strength. From the very first moments he is on stage, the audience pays attention and is enthralled with the story he relates.
And what a story it is. Evita Perón lived a short and full life during her 33 years, and she made such an impact on both politics and people that, 62 years later, her name still shines in lights. Born Eva Duarte to a poor farming family in a province of Buenos Aires, Eva was the fifth child in the family and learned early in life that anything worth having was worth fighting for. That fight and struggle comes through in every aspect of her story, which is part of the strength of this show: it is a perfect example of a biographical musical that works. And considering that Evita spent part of her life as an actress, it is an appropriate tribute that one of the most memorable musicals that ever played on Broadway evokes and celebrates her life.
The play begins at the end. On a screen lowered halfway, news photos of Evita Perón’s funeral play while the company intones the “Requiem” for their heroine. That prologue, led by the powerful Ché as narrator of Evita’s story, opens the door for the love story between Evita and creativity, between Evita and men, between Evita and Juan Perón, and ultimately, between Evita and Argentina.
When Evita arrives on stage and takes over with “Buenos Aires,” the audience has been holding its breath in anticipation. Caroline Bowman is Evita. She struts across the stage with confidence and sensuality, then stuns with a voice that effortlessly barrels through the song, hitting every note equally as powerful as the last.
As Evita matures, Bowman brings more depth and color to her solos, creating a plausibility in her character that brings you to the realization that she is parallel with or soaring high above the other actresses who have taken on this role for the past 36 years. To compare Bowman to Elaine Paige or Patti LuPone or Madonna means tearing down iconic performances, but Caroline Bowman is up to the task, and in some respects brings a freshness and vitality to the performance that is missing in some of the others.
Even when she is slightly off-stage, she is in character, touching her stomach or her forehead with indications of the major illness to come. She can vary from a tremendous clout in her voice to a sensitive softness. When she belts “Buenos Aires” she convinces the audience of her star quality, but she can turn immediately into a seductress to whisper to Perón, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You.”
The sets for this adaptation of the show are simple: a moving balcony for Eva’s centerpiece solo, a scrim or two to set the stage for the tangos that weave their way throughout each movement of the play, and a door to indicate the transition from one part of her life to another. The true “sets” in this performance are actually the imagined ones or the historical photos projected onto the backdrop. The audience is constantly reminded that this is not a fictional piece but, instead, a revision of a life story where the truth is almost more over-the-top than the fictional might have been. America has always loved a rags-to-riches story, but the Argentinean version is embodied with far more fire and verve than any that have arisen from this continent that it seems far more unlikely than a Horatio Alger version.
By the time the show reaches its apex and Caroline Bowman sings “Don’t Cry for me Argentina,” the singer as Eva Perón has come into herself, just as Evita herself matured. Her rise to power, as spectacular as it was, was equaled by her realization that she could not leave the poor people behind, and that compassion she felt was what paved the way for immortalization when she started to decline. If Evita Perón had remained healthy and had been able to take on the vice presidency, as she had dreamed, there is no telling whether her legacy would have been one that was celebrated or denigrated by the people of Argentina.
Evita demands the best of its performers, much as Eva Perón expected that she should have been able to give her best to her people. Whether on the Broadway stage or at DPAC, the stars of this version of the well-loved musical not only hold a candle to the other luminaries before them but, in a lot of respects, outshine them. Brava, Ms. Bowman and Mr. Young!
SECOND OPINION: March 12th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/news/showcase/x1001076132/REVIEW-Music-of-Evita-never-leaves-you and March 6th preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/entertainment/x398964624/The-power-of-political-celebrity-Evita-on-tour (Note: You must register to read these articles); and March 12th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Zack Smith: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/evita/Event?oid=3768847. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the March 12th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2014/03/caroline-bowman-and-josh-young-star-as-eva-duarte-de-peron-and-che-in-evita-on-march-11-16-at-dpac/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents EVITA at 7:30 p.m. March 13, 8 p.m. March 14, 2 and 8 p.m. March 15, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. March 16 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco District. TICKETS: $42.75-$121.75 (including fees).
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-2787, , or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/844915.
GROUP RATES (20+ tickets): 919-281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/group_services.
SHOW: http://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/evita and https://www.facebook.com/events/612833728733048/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0Vc3_E1r30.
THE TOUR: http://www.evitaonbroadway.com/tour.html, https://www.facebook.com/EvitaTour, and https://twitter.com/EvitaTour.
THE TOUR CAST: http://www.evitaonbroadway.com/cast.html.
THE TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: http://www.evitaonbroadway.com/creative.html.
SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2014-15.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, and https://twitter.com/DPAC.
Maria Eva Duarte de Perón, a.k.a. “Evita” (First Lady of Argentina, 1919-52): http://www.evitaperon.org/ (Eva Perón Historical Research Foundation) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_Peron (Wikipedia).
Evita (1976 concept album and 1978 West End, 1979 Broadway musical, and 2012 Broadway revival): http://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/shows/?show=Evita (Andrew Lloyd Webber), http://www.timrice.co.uk/evita.html (Tim Rice), http://www.reallyuseful.com/shows/evita/ (Really Useful Group page), http://www.evitaonbroadway.com/ (2012-13 Broadway revival), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=3400 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evita_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: http://www.evitaonbroadway.com/img/Evita-Study-Guide.pdf (2012-13 Broadway revival).
Baron Andrew Lloyd Webber (music): http://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Lloyd_Webber (Wikipedia).
Sir Tim Rice (book and lyrics): http://www.timrice.co.uk/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Rice (Wikipedia).
Evita (1996 film): http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/300915/Evita/ (TCM Movie Database), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116250/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evita_%28film%29 (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.com/.