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Chicago by John Olson

Evita
Oriental Theatre


Caroline Bowman and Josh Young
Chicago is just the second stop for the "rainbow" tour of Michael Grandage's Broadway revival of Evita and, while it's a perfectly fine Equity production, it lacks "just a little bit of star quality." Apparently somewhat downscaled (the cast includes an ensemble of 18 as opposed to 26 on Broadway), it boasts fine singing in the leads and a handsome if fairly simple production design, but there's no great flash or spark in the performances. In fairness, Tim Rice's book (which oddly enough isn't even credited as a book, but simply as lyrics) has all the depth and emotional heft of a Wikipedia article, but Evita and Che are roles that made stars out of Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. There's some serious scenery to be chewed and it just doesn't happen here.

Playing Evita and Che are Caroline Bowman (most recently in the ensemble of Kinky Boots) and Josh Young (Judas in Des McAnuff's Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar). Bowman can belt in the style of LuPone, but there's no uniqueness to her style to suggest the star power of Peron herself, nor the likes of LuPone or Madonna. The lovely Ms. Bowman acts credibly—showing Evita's rise and fall with physical subtlety—but this role was recently dubbed by a Playbill.com writer as the greatest diva role in all of musical theatre, and Bowman doesn't take advantage of the opportunity. Her Eva is maybe too credible—she's never larger than life in the way fans of this musical might expect.

Josh Young most certainly has the pipes to sing Che. It's a joy to listen to him, but his movement is fairly wooden. The character of course is no more than a detached narrator, but the likes of Patinkin, Antonio Banderas and Anthony Crivello have given Che some charisma that the handsome Young doesn't quite project. As Juan Peron, Sean McLaughlin is similarly big voiced, and as bland a presence as the character Rice wrote. The two supporting characters, the tango singer Magaldi and the mistress Peron dumps for Eva, are played with appropriate humor and pathos by, respectively, Christopher Johnstone and Krystina Alabado.

I'd argue the score is Andrew Lloyd Webber's best. It's varied, with none (well ,few) of the songs sounding like they were pulled out of his trunk. The music makes use of Latin American idioms but has its own personality unique to this piece, and the melodies are accompanied by some most intriguing harmonies. The production offers a top-rate reading of the score, with strong vocals by the ensemble and a very full-sounding orchestra for its 16 pieces. The ensemble executes Rob Ashford's simple and elegant choreography with precision.

The set by Christopher Oram focuses on interiors, with a wall of windows, columns and a balcony suggesting the train station and presidential palace of Buenos Aires. Oram (who also did the smart looking costumes) works in a palette of browns that feels earthy, while the visualization moves between the realistic and the symbolic. Neil Austin's lighting design adds beams of light that provide otherworldliness to Evita, who was viewed as a goddess by many, according to this story. Grandage uses black and white movie film projections (by Zachary Borovay) to effectively add historical context.

Fans of Evita and those new to the piece will likely find this tour an acceptable interpretation. I'd guess those who remember the 1979 Broadway original and even the feature film with Madonna and Banderas will continue to treasure their memories of earlier productions more fondly in their hearts.

Evita will play the Oriental Theatre, 25 W. Randolph, Chicago, through October 6, 2013. For ticket information, visit www.broadwayinchicago.com. For more information on the tour, visit


Photo: Broadway in Chicago

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-- John Olson



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