REVIEW: Evita (Oriental Theatre, Chicago)

By now, regular readers of my blog should be aware that I have a background in Theatre.  I’ve been in shows; I’ve worked tech for shows; I’ve done front of house for shows; I have an MA in Theatre.  So, living in Chicago should be quite the jackpot for me, right?  Well, unfortunately, I don’t always take advantage of living in the Second City.  So many great shows come through…and I rarely go to see them.  It’s a shame, really.  It’s also something I hope to change.

English: Ford Center for the Performing Arts O...

English: Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre Category:Images of Chicago, Illinois (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I started my road to change last night (Friday, 9/20/13) by attending the production of Evita at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre in Chicago.  If you’ve never been to the Oriental Theatre, make sure you put it on your list of “sites to see” when visiting Chicago.  It’s a beautiful venue located in the heart of the Theatre District.  If you have the opportunity to take a tour of the theatre, don’t hesitate.  The history of the theatre is worth the tour – being able to go backstage is icing on the cake.

About 17 years ago (geez, I’m old) I was hired to work the follow spot for a production of Evita.  Other than hearing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” when I was growing up, that was my first exposure to the show.  I was enthralled.  Since then, Evita has remained one of my favorite musicals.

Last night was the first time I got to experience Evita purely as a member of the audience.  It was a very different perspective, I must say.

Overall, I enjoyed this production quite a bit.  The performers are quite talented.  The set was minimal, thereby making it very versatile.  The costumes were nicely done.   Everything was designed to keep the attention where it needed to be – on Eva Peron herself.

Speaking of Eva Peron…

Caroline Bowman played the lead in this production.  Bowman has a fairly impressive resume: Original cast member of Kinky Boots on Broadway (ensemble) and understudy for Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway.  Based on the information provided in the program, this appears to be her first “show carrying” lead role.  While giving a solid performance last evening, it also seemed as if Bowman wasn’t fully comfortable in the role.  It wasn’t until half way into the 1st act that Bowman seemed to settle in and become a formidable presence on the stage.  Until that point, there appeared to be a couple of missed musical cues and some physical uncertainly in her movements.  Bowman’s performance of Eva Peron was much stronger than her performance of Eva Duarte.  Perhaps this was an actor’s or director’s choice, perhaps not.  Overall, however, this was a truly solid performance – well sung, well acted, well played.

The role of Che was played by Josh Young.  If you’re familiar with Evita, you know that Che is the glue that holds the production together.  Cast a weak Che and  you’ll have a weak production.  Fortunately, Young carries the show well.  Young appropriately blends into the crowds when necessary, but clearly makes his presence known when it’s his time to lead the audience through the events unfolding on stage.  Again, my issue here comes from choices – whether the actor’s or the director’s – that were made.  At times, Young’s delivery sounded more suited to Jesus Christ Superstar than Evita.  I even mentioned that to my cousin – who attended the show with me.  Interestingly, it was later, when I read the “Who’s Who” section of the program, that I learned Young was nominated for a Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for his performance of Judas in JCS on Broadway.  So, at least I hit that nail on the proverbial head.  Again, my question here is with the choice, not the performance.  I used to tell my students, “You need to make performance choices.  Whether right or wrong, once you make the choice, you need to commit to it.”  Young committed to his choices.  For that, I applaud him.

The rest of the cast supported Bowman and Young quite admirably.  It was a great group of talented singers, dancers, and actors.  Christopher Johnstone as Augustine Magaldi was wonderful as Eva’s first stepping stone to fame.  Sean MacLaughlin delivered just the right amount of gravitas as Juan Peron.  Krystina Alabado didn’t disappoint with her rendition of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” which is my favorite song from Evita.  (Had that song failed, the whole production would have failed for me.)

The choice to have “Santa Evita” sung by a woman with an infant child rather than a group of children was an interesting one.  On one hand, I was thrown by this choice and thought, “Well, that’s not right!”  But after further reflection, I decided that it was an interesting perspective to have the mother pleading for Eva’s blessing rather than the children.  It gave things a different perspective and, clearly, made me think about that perspective.  I will say that I still prefer the song being sung by children (or a child), but I don’t hate having it sung by the mother.  Again, simply an interesting choice.Evita

If you have the chance to see the national tour of Evita, do take the time to attend.  It’s a worthwhile production.  And, of course, it’s Evita!  I have a feeling that even a bad production of Evita is worth seeing.  But, rest assured, this is not a bad production.  

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