Directed by Tony and Olivier Award-winner Michael Grandage and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Rob Ashford, the three-week visit of "Evita" playing until Oct. 6 at Oriental Theatre in Chicago is the first new Broadway production of the seven-time Tony Award-winning musical, since it debuted on Broadway more than 30 years ago.
And how did I reach age 43 and work 20 years covering arts and entertainment and not have seen any production of this set to music telling of the rise to power of the real-life Eva Peron? I'm really not sure. While I even wrote preview stories for The Times about the hype surrounding what was, the at the time, the upcoming 1996 film version that starred Madonna and Antonio Banderas, I've also never seen that big screen telling.
So last Thursday, I was a fresh mind, pair of eyes and ears and curious awaiting audience member to review the opening night of this new tour, which is a just over-two hours performance.
It is striking, captures spirit and imagination and best of all, you learn quite a few details of who this woman, revered by so many. Of course, I was familiar with many of the famed, passionate songs from the score. But what I didn't realize (and perhaps this chapter in my world history class in high school got skipped), Eva Peron wasn't a pure-unblemished soul who fits the mold of humanitarian. There's no doubt after watching "Evita" that she put herself, and her needs and wants, before everybody else. In fact, if brash comedienne Joan Rivers were reviewing this musical, she would likely use one of her favorite comedy lines: "This woman had a turnstile to her bedroom and a 'take a number' sign above the door."
But since Joan isn't the guest reviewer for this piece, and instead, it's my prose, I'll get to the nuts and bolts. This is tour has just launched, as I wrote in my preview story interview a week ago with talented actor Josh Young, who previously appeared at Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 2011 in the role of Che for a production of "Evita," directed by Gary Griffin. So our readership gets the rare treat to seen what has yet to arrive to the rest of the country. For this tour, Young stepped into his same role, which singer Ricky Martin, played for the Broadway run in New York prior to this tour. Young's voice and look are perfect. But, when cast as a revolutionary whose favorite feat for this show, playing the singing narrator, is to take to task every action of Eva Peron, Young still has to work a little on his gritty, tough persona to match the wits of his female counterpart. Actress Caroline Bowman, tall and willowy, is that counterpart, playing the title role. She captivates, but her vocals at times can be just a tad shrill for some key high notes in some scenes. Sean MacLaughlin does quite nicely as her puppet ruling husband Juan Peron.
Eva Perón used her beauty and charms to ascend from the slums of Argentina to the presidential mansion as First Lady and won international acclaim and adoration from her own people as a champion of the poor. But the glamor, power and greed are what she is most remembered for. Patti Lupone, who is the identity on Broadway so associated with this role, is likely more the petite build of the real Peron. But when wrapped up in the story (all of it sung, not spoken), it's easy to be seduced by every moment, as intended by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's brillant stage creation.
Tickets are $27 to $95 at (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com or evitaonbroadway.com.