A sensational version of ‘Evita’ shines at Miami’s Arsht Center

05/28/2014 1:41 PM

09/11/2014 1:47 PM

The original Broadway production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita, so brilliantly staged by the great Harold Prince, ran for 1,567 performances. It had a stellar cast (Patti LuPone as Eva, Mandy Patinkin as Che and Bob Gunton as Juan Perón), and it marked a major stylistic leap forward for the team that had given the world Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

When director Michael Grandage’s re-imagined London revival of Evita finally hit Broadway in 2012, it lasted for 337 performances. Of its leads — thin-voiced Argentine actress Elena Roger as Eva, pop star Ricky Martin as Che and Broadway veteran Michael Cerveris as Perón — Cerveris earned the lion’s share of the kudos, though fans flocked to see Martin in the flesh. Too often, the show seemed more stately than sizzling.

Now, for a way-too-short run, the touring version of Grandage’s production has hit the stage at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. And it is, in a word, sensational.

Propelled by a trio of colossally talented leading actors, this Evita is better by far than the Broadway revival. It’s sexy, thought-provoking and gloriously delivered. With new orchestrations by Lloyd Webber and David Cullen, the tango-infused songs, ballads and rock numbers soar, coalescing into a powerful through-sung score that is an appealing hybrid of musical theater and opera.

Eva Duarte de Perón lived a complicated, controversial Cinderella story, starting life as a rancher’s illegitimate daughter and ending it, at 33, as Argentina’s beloved and reviled first lady. In bringing Eva to life on tour, Caroline Bowman (most recently in the ensemble of Broadway’s Kinky Boots) is living out her own star-is-born story.

Bowman acts, sings and dances beautifully. She conquers the rangy difficulties of Lloyd Webber’s music, and throughout the show is, like Perón herself, an alluring and fascinating figure. (Note that Desi Oakley plays Eva at the Saturday matinee and Sunday evening performances.)

Bowman strikes sparks of two different kinds opposite her leading men, Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Perón and Josh Young as Che, the sardonic narrator whose running commentary counteracts the first couple’s myth-making machinery.

MacLaughlin, whose long resumé includes playing Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, is Bowman’s seductive equal as they sell themselves to each other singing I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You. The actor exudes a military man’s strength even as he conveys that Perón is vulnerable to Eva’s carefully crafted manipulation.

Young, a Tony Award nominee in the recent Broadway revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, is a fiercely mesmerizing actor whose superb voice has a dazzling range. When Che is at his most cynical, Young almost snarls his lyrics, though his delivery (and the show’s sound mix overall) is crystal clear. Given the talents of Young and Bowman, the tango-like Waltz for Eva and Che becomes a sensuous face-off between a pair of powerhouse actors.

Krystina Alabado as Perón’s discarded schoolgirl mistress sings a sweetly pitiable Another Suitcase in Another Hall after Eva gives her the boot. And Christopher Johnstone is a charismatic love rat as Agustín Magaldi, the singer who becomes the first in Eva’s long line of ever-more-powerful lovers.

Staged by Seth Sklar-Heyn (based on Grandage’s original direction), the touring production is topnotch in every way. Chris Bailey re-creates Rob Ashford’s choreography, employing versions of the tango that range from mournful to red-hot. Christopher Oram’s striking sets and Neil Austin’s painterly lighting conjure everything from a rowdy club in the Argentine sticks to the stately Casa Rosada with its made-for-speeches balcony. Oram’s costume designs, including the famous sparkling strapless white ball gown for Eva’s big Don’t Cry for Me Argentina number, are period perfect.

The orchestra, a combination of touring and local musicians under the direction of William Waldrop, delivers sumptuous, stirring versions of Lloyd Webber’s music, with strings and the bandoneón infusing the sound with an Argentine flavor.

There’s lots of money to be made when successful Broadway shows hit the road, so fans who rarely if ever go to New York usually get reasonable facsimiles of the original productions. But sometimes, they get lucky. Sometimes, they get the better show. As they do with Evita.

About Christine Dolen

Christine Dolen

@ChristineDolen

Christine Dolen has been the Herald's theater critic since 1979. She has served as a Pulitzer Prize drama juror and has won first place in arts writing in the Missouri Lifestyles Journalism Awards.

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