She was a legend in her time, a figure adored, envied and hated all at once. Eva Peron is the subject of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical “Evita,” which was revived on Broadway in 2012 and has now begun its national tour. This week, that tour brings its powerful production to the San Jose Center for Performing Arts.
There have been a few changes from the original 1978 production: The narrator character of Che is portrayed more as an “everyman” reflecting the voice of the people (and not as the revolutionary Che Guevara), and the Oscar-winning song “You Must Love Me” — written for the 1996 film — has been added to the production. These changes are welcome, but the musical comes across as slightly outdated in spite of them.
Eva herself is, after all, portrayed very harshly. Criticism has been leveled at the musical for inaccuracy in portraying her as a woman who only succeeded because she slept her way to the top, and even Patti LuPone – who won a Tony playing Eva on Broadway – described the part as having been “written by a man who hates women”. The audience must constantly remind themselves that the sexism and lack of female independence is indicative of the time, but it’s not always easy to do.
That being said, director Michael Grandage has done a wonderful job with this production, and its only shortcomings are from the script, because the execution is nearly flawless. The show’s design is breathtaking, with absolutely gorgeous lighting design by Neil Austin and equally stunning set and costume design by Christopher Oram. The attention to detail creates a fully realized and accurate backdrop for the standout performances.
Caroline Bowman is a tour de force as she transforms believably from a young and flighty Eva, to a calculated social climber, to the adored Spiritual Leader of the Nation of Argentina, and finally to an ailing and physically declining woman. She tackles each of these aspects of Eva with ease, and her commanding and beautiful voice carries most of the show’s musical numbers.
She is complemented by Josh Young, a phenomenal Che, and Sean MacLaughlin, who plays an admirable Juan Peron. Young has an incredible voice and holds the audience’s attention anytime he comes onstage. Another standout voice and performance was in Krystina Alabado as the Mistress; her musical number, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” was one of my favorites of the show.
The ensemble is dynamic and engaging, with beautiful choreography that could be just a little more in sync. Their vocals and presence, however, never waver, and they believably create the landscape of Argentina onstage.
All in all, this production brings a new energy and flair to Evita, and its most famous numbers, such as “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” live up to their hype. It brought the San Jose audience to its feet in a long-lasting standing ovation. It may not be able to conceal the difficulties inherent in staging this play in our modern world, but it certainly will provide a memorable night at the theater with performances and design sure to leave a lasting impact.