'Evita': Great songs, dark story

"Evita" stars Caroline Bowman, Josh Young as Che (center), and Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Peron.
"Evita" stars Caroline Bowman, Josh Young as Che (center), and Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Peron. (RICHARD TERMINE)
Posted: June 20, 2014

Eva Peron in her white gown with her sleek blond chignon stands on the balcony outside the Academy of Music, giving Broad Street the regal two-armed wave. Below, on the sidewalk, women in killer stilettos are tangoing with slim men in black. Evita's back in town.

The 1978 show, by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, is a sung-through musical tragedy: It begins with a funeral and ends with a funeral, and in between there are flashbacks to a life of ruthless ambition, dirty politics, dirty sex, fatal cancer, and darkness.

Eva Peron (Caroline Bowman) was, from 1944 to 1952, the wife of Argentine dictator Juan Peron (Sean MacLaughlin). She was, we're told, adored by the people, first as first lady, then as a saint. At 15, she was a poor girl from nowhere; she leaves her family with handsome tango singer Magaldi (Christopher Johnstone) and, arriving in Buenos Aires, becomes a celebrity slut, quickly learning the "art of the possible." Then she meets Col. Peron, and the rest is, literally - if not accurately - history.

The show's most interesting device is the character Che (not Che Guevara, but just an ordinary working-class guy; che means "hey" in Argentina). Josh Young (who's from Wallingford) sings this ironical, passionate role in a glorious, rich voice.

It is in Che's observations and reactions - charmed and appalled - that Evita captures the ambiguity of Eva Peron's guileless charisma and her calculated sympathy for the peasants, as she enabled her husband to destroy Argentina. They are the ultimate power couple, plotting to "take the country" as they kneel before the priest in their wedding ceremony.

As Evita, Bowman is best in elegant mode: She seems to lack the trashy, spitfire sexiness crucial to her character, and so her transformation, like the character, isn't sufficiently dramatic. Her voice works well, but there, too, the role lacks drama.

The great songs are great again ("Don't Cry for Me Argentina," "You Must Love Me") but of all the 27 songs, only one, "And the Money Kept Rolling In," is upbeat. This grim similarity extends, logically, to the lighting (dark) and to the choreography (tango). It is, oddly, a one-note show.


THEATER REVIEW

Evita

Through Sunday at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets.

Tickets $20-$105. Information: 215-731-3333 or www.kimmelcenter.org/broadway

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