By KATERINA BELALES
After opening on Broadway 35 years ago in 1979, Evita has been one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, it concentrates on the life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, the second wife of Argentine president Juan Perón.
The story follows Evita’s early life, rise to power, charity work, and eventual death. The musical began as a rock opera concept album released in 1976. Its success led to productions in London’s West End in 1978, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical, and on Broadway a year later, where it was the first British musical to receive the Tony Award for Best Musical. This has been followed by a string of professional tours and worldwide productions and numerous cast albums, as well as a major 1996 film of the musical starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas. I had the pleasure of finally seeing this show at the Bushnell in Hartford on opening night Sept. 23.
I enjoyed the show immensely. Andrew Lloyd Webber has always been one of my favorite composers, and I was already in love with some of the more popular songs from this show, such as the show’s showstopper “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” and “Buenos Aires.” However, finally seeing the show made me fall in love with the whole entire score.
I was pretty impressed with most of the cast members. First, the ensemble was wonderful. The opening song, “Requiem for Evita,” is a truly beautiful and haunting piece, and it gave me goose bumps. The intensity and emotion that the ensemble put into that number was incredible.
I also loved the choreography and dancing during the prominent dance numbers, such as “Buenos Aires” and “And the Money Kept Rolling In.” Each member of the ensemble executed each step and movement perfectly.
I also thought the singing was excellent from all of the leads.
Caroline Bowman, who was the star of the show, gained a new fan on opening night. I absolutely loved her singing voice and acting. I felt that she brought a new side to Eva that we haven’t seen before, and I loved it. Her singing voice was absolutely incredible, and I wish there was a cast recording with her as the lead (even though the original cast recording with Patti Lupone and Mandy Patinkin is marvelous). Each of her songs were absolutely chilling.
The same thoughts go to Max Quinlan, who played the show’s narrator, Che.
His acting was spot-on, and his singing voice was perfection. I was in awe of these two. Part of me wishes the revival had opened on Broadway with Caroline and Josh in the lead roles.
Next, there’s Perón, who was played by Sean MacLaughlin. I felt that Juan Perón was really standing onstage during that night. His acting was wonderful, and you could feel the sense of dictatorship through him.
The other supporting characters were very good, as well. Christopher Johnstone portrayed Magaldi, Eva’s ex-lover—a tango singer who brought her to Buenos Aires. He was very entertaining during his scenes, and provided some comic relief for this darker musical.
Juan Perón’s mistress was played by Krystina Alabado, who portrayed her character with such innocence during her one and only song “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” which happened to be another favorite of mine. You couldn’t help but feel truly sorry for this poor, young girl whom you barely get to know.
In terms of the costumes and set/lighting design, I can assure you that both were simply stunning. I was absolutely in awe each time Eva would step out onto the stage in her gorgeous costumes. From the glamorous gowns to the stunning jewelry, Eva’s outfits were always marvelous. My favorite had to be the white ballgown embedded with Swarovski crystals. Caroline looked stunning. All of the other costumes were great, as well. You felt like you were actually in Argentina in the 1940s.
One of the highlights of the night was when Eva came out at the start of Act Two. I thought the lighting was perfect and made her dress light up. When the balcony extended it added to the excitement of the scene. This set is by far one of the most beautiful designs I have ever seen.
The use of the projections was perfect. They were used at precisely the right moments, and added a lot to the show as a whole. I LOVED the opening with the curtain coming up about quarter of the way during “Requiem,” then splitting open in synchronization with the swelling orchestra to reveal the news headline and funeral footage. The “big reveal” of the whole set at the top of “Buenos Aires” is worth the price of the ticket alone. The set is so elegant, grandiose, and detailed. It was able to become so many different places with the help of some beautiful lighting. The lighting captured the heat and sweat of Buenos Aires flawlessly. The light pouring through the doors and windows was also beautiful beyond belief. It was really spectacular to see, especially for a touring show.
Michael Grandage deserves special mention for some of the most brilliant and visionary directing I have seen in a live production. There are so many moments and sequences of just sheer brilliance. His direction combined with Rob Ashford’s choreography made for an evening of one beautiful stage picture after another. The use of the suitcases for “Rainbow Tour” and “And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)” was genius. The staging of the montage at the end with the segue from the empty bed to coffin and then the final moment with Eva, Juan, and Che all positioned onstage…CHILLS.
Like any other production, however, there were flaws. First off, the staging of certain numbers was a little boring to me. Having watched some videos of previous productions throughout the years, I felt that the direction of this specific production was a little boring and uninspired. But, honestly, that didn’t stop me from enjoying the show. However, it was good to see a production go completely the other way and do something new, rather than it being a watered down version of Hal Prince’s (the original director) production, which would have just been infuriating. Also, while not being a flaw, be aware that this show is a rock opera, and is completely sung-through with barely any spoken dialogue. If you don’t know the story of Eva Perón, you will most likely be a little confused and wondering what’s going on from time to time.
Even knowing what the musical was about, I still found myself looking up the synopsis during intermission to make sure I understood correctly (for your information, I’m 15 years old, and didn’t know the history of the Peróns before this).
The low point was “The Art of the Possible,” which is a number that depicts Peron’s rise in power in the military. I had no idea what was going on at first. Maybe they could have used the projector to show more military action, since it was used to fill out other scenes. The scene seemed to fall flat.
Also, the first act flew by, didn’t realize how quickly it goes by.
Also, if you have children, be aware that this show is not for children. The show is very dark with little comedy. Not only will children not get what’s going on in the storyline.
Overall, I would give this production 3 and a half stars out of 4. It was an excellent show, and is a perfect night out for the theater. The wonderful storyline and gorgeous music will truly leave you on the edge of your seat and (possibly) leave you in tears at the end of the show (which happened to me.). Overall, I believe that this touring was better than the actual Broadway production in terms of casting. This is by far the highest quality touring production I have seen in terms of set, lighting, and costumes.
Katerina Belales, 15, is a student at Southington High School and a local actress.
By KATERINA BELALES