Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Evita" Blows Sunshine Through the Polar Vortex

If your days were numbered, how would you choose to live?

Just such a question faced Evita Peron, "Spiritual Leader" of Argentina and a notorious public face of the 1940's. While she never lacked ambition, her numbered days certainly gave her extra drive. 

Evita is essentially a musical biopic, following the life of one of the most legendary political figures of early post-colonial Argentina. Evita (Eva) Peron was born into the working class, and through strategic connections and a knack for the radio climbed her way to the upper echelon of Argentinian society. Her political ambition knew no bounds and was only restricted by terminal cancer, of which she died at age 33. 

Of course, Evita cannot be separated from politics, and the darker elements of post-colonial South America underpin the entire show. It helps to enhance how Evita's young, bright facade could make an entire country turn a blind eye so quickly. 

It's a sexy story and great fodder for a stage musical (and movies starring Madonna, and...). Argentina itself is almost a character in Evita, and every moment hums with the conviction that things are done differently there. 

It takes a while for Caroline Bowman to warm up to her role as Evita, but when she does, watch out. Bowman sines on solos "You Must Love Me" and the post-mortem "Lament," which is her best moment of the show. She's also well matched with Sean MacLaughlin (Peron), and their duets (including "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You") are lovely. 

Josh Young is a mixed bag as narrator Che. Young has a wonderful voice, which stands out in "Peron's Latest Flame" (among others); but at times his voice appears almost TOO powerful, battling with the rest of the company. 

The show's biggest surprise, however, is a spectacular turn by Krystina Alabado as the nameless Mistress. In just one song ("Another Suitcase in Another Hall"), she manages to inject all of the clarity and feeling that the rest of the first act lacks. It's a stunner; make sure to look out for it.

Dancing is a particular highlight of Evita, compiling the best of Argentina's rich history of tangoes into one sensuous, sexy whole. "Buenos Aires" marks a definite dance showstopper.

Act II definitely surpasses the first act, with a wonderful solo by Che on "And the Money Kept Rolling In" and a nice turn by Peron on "She is a Diamond." Part of the first act's slowness is inevitable due to perplexingly muddy sound mixing, which makes it nearly impossible to decipher the lyrics and dialogue. It's frustrating, especially for those previously unfamiliar with Evita's story; here's hoping that it gets ironed out at the next tour stop.

In our mire of snow and cold, it's nice to escape for a while to sunnier climes, however fleeting or tempestuous they may be. Evita provides just such an escape, and a welcome one.