The Broadway stage is known for its legendary pageantry and majestic musicals. No show better showcases these two elements (and more) than Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s EVITA. Debuting more than 30 years ago EVITA is a seven-time Tony Award-winning musical that like fine wine gets better with time. This limited engagement at the Adrienne Arsht Center is no exception. Of all the musicals that come to mind this is the one I’ve been waiting for. The film version starring Madonna (in my opinion her best screen appearance to date), Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Pryce and directed by Alan Parker has remained on my Top 10 List since its release in 1996. I am a fan of Webber and Rice and rank another of their astounding collaborations JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR as a pinnacle must see show and all time personal favorite.
EVITA is based on the humble beginnings and incredible rise of Maria Eva Duarte de Perón. Her beauty and charisma charmed the nation of Argentina as well as the world. Growing up in the slums of her home county Eva’s passion for life was in her later years overshadowed by greed and ambition. Though she became one of the most powerful and beloved women in the world her fragile health and ultimate end is what makes her story so tragic. Webber and Rice have wonderfully captured the essence of Eva and told her unforgettable story in the grandest way; with beautiful music and song. The story told by ‘the narrator’ Ché is a brilliant twist as he conveys the plight of our heroine and the people of Argentina. It is within this concept we get to see all sides of Eva’s story as Ché himself is one of the poor (the descamisados “without shirt” or “shirtless) she championed and vowed to help once she gained power as the First Lady of Argentina by marrying dictator Juan Perón.
This is the first new production of the musical since its original debut. Tour director Seth Sklar-Heyn has outdone himself. The show moves with an ebb and flow that is smooth and effortless. Choreographer Chris Bailey has put together some of the best and intriquette dance routines I’ve seen in a long time. They made me wish I could emulate the actors on stage and dance the Tango. Tony Award winning scenic and costume designer Christopher Oram expertly captured Eva’s rise from the slums to the palace, designer clothes, jewels and all. His costumes are a wonder to behold and perfectly represent the time period. The set design is simple and complete and fits well within the original vision of the show. Kristen Blodgette (music supervisor) and William Waldrop (music director/conductor) brought Webber and Rice’s music to life making the songs sound grander and full as the orchestra filled the hall with a richness that could not only be heard but felt. EVITA features some of the most beautiful and memorable songs that has ever hit the Great White Way. Another Suitcase in Another Hall, High Flying, Adored, Buenos Aires, The Lady’s Got Potential, Oh What A Circus and of course the quintessential tearjerker Don’t Cry For Me Argentina are among the best included in this 2 hour 10 minute extravaganza. One of the most tender and memorable performances is undoubtedly between Eva and Peron as she laments the classic You Must Love Me.
The performers are simply amazing on stage. Each has embraced their character and for lack of a better term, become them. Caroline Bowman is stunning as Evita. Her voice is as powerful as her stage presence. More importantly she is 100% believable as Eva, which is a must for this role. Her operatic vocal range tugs at all the right heart strings as she delivers each song with vulnerability (when needed) and conviction. Josh Young as Ché is as charming as his film counterpart (Antonio Banderas) and plays his part well. He also has a great interpretation of his role making Ché’s presence warm and welcoming. His vocal performance is nothing short of stellar and like Bowman shines brightly in this production. Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Peron is strong and forthright as his character. Captivated by Eva’s charms, corrupted by his own power, there is still a likeability Sean brings to Juan especially as Evita’s story forges on. By the end of the show it’s hard not to grieve and feel his pain with him. Requiem for Evita (in Latin, which is modeled on a Catholic requiem) is truly heartbreaking as the orchestra swells with emotion holding the audience in its grasp. Needless to say there was a tear or two shed during the final scenes of the show though I’m happy to say I held myself together.
The supporting cast is beyond excellent and expectation. Each actor makes this show the modern masterpiece I expected. If there was ever a memorable way to close the 2013-2014 Broadway Season in Miami EVITA topped the bill. This is one night I won’t soon forget and neither will you if you’re lucky enough to be in the audience during its run. If I had to describe tonight’s performance of EVITA in one word it would be “WOW!” It is clearly the best show I’ve been lucky enough to see all year.