"Evita" revival brings Broadway to Milwaukee in all its finest glory
The life of Eva Perón was a short one, just a shade over 33 years, and it carried her from a 15-year-old temptress to the spiritual leader of Argentina.
She was a comet, using her brains, guile and glorious sexuality to climb from nothing to everything.
Her story is incredibly compelling, as is "Evita," the musical based on her life which opened a short run at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts Tuesday night.
The musical is over 35 years old, and its first national tour was in 1980. To say it's been around a while is an understatement.
But it wears its years well, with wonderful music from Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. It was revived on Broadway in 2010, and this current tour is a spectacular continuation of the remarkable run of this play.
The play – featuring no dialogue, only music – tells the story of Eva, who started out as a 15-year-old tart hungry for something more in her life. She meets and marries a tango singer, and persuades him to take her to Buenos Aires.
It doesn't take her long to leave him and begin a steady climb up the ladder on the backs of important men each step of the way. Finally, she meets, woos and weds Colonel Juan Peron, who becomes the people's choice and is elected president of Argentina.
While he is the president, she is much more than a normal first lady. She is a passionate driven force, creating a nearly mythological aura about both her husband and herself. The people of Argentina love him, but they worship her.
Finally in Milwaukee, the touring production is a spectacular event, true to the original staging and choreography, and it carried the opening night audience along with every twist and turn.
When you have a piece of music as famous as "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," it's sometimes easy to forget that there's a lot more than just that one song. But it's very interesting that the first number sung by Che, the narrator, is called "Oh, What a Circus," which has much the same tune as its more famous song. A different measure, but you can easily recognize the well known song.
When I think of the number of touring companies I've seen and how many of them seem to be pale imitations of what the original was, I'm grateful for the booking of this show into Milwaukee. It is a full Broadway-capable performance, from the wonderful music, the orchestra, the costumes and sets and most of all, the performances.
From the lush and moving performances of both Josh Young as Che and Caroline Bowman as Eva, to the members of the ensemble, it is the caliber of theater rarely seen in this town, and everyone should take advantage of the opportunity to see it.
The first star we meet onstage is Young. His Che is not to be confused with that other Che. This one is an everyman, representing the people of Argentina. But more than that, under Young's skillful and gritty performance, he is also the conscience of Eva as well as her wondrous critic. Young has a great voice and the kind of swarthy good looks and emotion that is truly matinee idol quality.
Bowman is a wonder to behold as Eva. I've seen Patti LuPone, and I've seen the movie with Madonna. Some people raved about the sexuality Madonna brought to the role, but I've always thought of her as a bit obvious.
Bowman radiates immense sex appeal without any blatant language or movement. Her voice carries a sultry tone, while a subtle sway of her hips and a double hand sashay of her dress makes you catch your breath. This is one sexy lady, but she doesn't lose herself in her sexuality. She uses it.
When Eva first meets Juan Peron, she stands about 10 feet from him, dressed in a shimmering white gown and he in his starched military uniform. Slowly, she walks toward him, one purposeful step at a time. When she reaches him, she lifts her right hand and lightly touches his cheek. It was the kind of moment that reeks of sexual appeal and makes hearts beat faster.
When she sings "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" right near the top of the second act, it's almost as if I was hearing the song for the first time. Her vulnerability and passions, embraced by a trembling voice, were moving and infused the song with the kind of love I've rarely heard. It was love for the people, love for her country, love for her husband and, perhaps most of all, love for herself. It was a stunning rendition.
Paul Mathews and his crew at the Marcus Center have established a great track record for bringing top flight national tours to Milwaukee. Some are better than others.
"Evita" is at the absolute head of the list. You should not miss the opportunity to see a true Broadway classic.
"Evita" runs through Feb. 9. Information and tickets are available at marcuscenter.org.
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