Dallas Summer Musicals
Directed on Broadway by Michael Grandage
Tour Directed by Seth Skylar-Heyn
Broadway Choreography by Rob Ashford
Tour Choreography by Chris Bailey
Musical Direction/Conductor-William Waldrop
Scenic and Costume Design by Christopher Oram
Projection Design by Zachary Borovay
Lighting Design by Neil Austin
Sound Design by Mick Potter
Wig and Hair Design by Richard Mawbey
Makeup Design by Jason Goldsberry
Stage Management by Michael Rico Cohen
CHE – Josh Young
EVA – Caroline Bowman
PERON – Sean MacLaughlin
MAGALDI – Christopher Johnstone
MISTRESS – Krystina Alabado
ENSEMBLE – Chelsey Arce, Ryan K. Bailer, Nicholas Belton, Ronald L. Brown, Kristen Smith Davis, Samantha Farrow, Katharine Heaton, Tony Howell, Katie Huff, Eric Anthony Johnson, Patrick Oliver Jones, Chris Kotera, Alison Mahoney, Megan Ort, Katerina Papacostas, Johnny Stellard, Sally Ann Swarm.
Photo Credit: Richard Termine
Reviewed Performance 4/15/2014
Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Critic/Editor/Founder for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
If you are a regular reader/COLUMN subscriber then you are clearly aware that I write my theater reviews with a very different, unique, and distinct perspective point of view. There is the saying that goes, “Those who can’t, teach.” As my background has clearly shown, I am still an active working actor who happens to be a theater critic. Thus you also know as an avid reader of my reviews that I tend to add my personal or professional connections to the material. I start my critique of Evita this way because of the following revelation.
Only my very close circle of friends is aware of my family linage to the former first lady of Argentina, Eva Perón. I betcha most critics can’t say that!
My mother was born in Buenos Aires. From her side of the family my Great-Great Grandmother Carmen Olivia was a lady in waiting in the royal court during the reign of Eva and Juan Perón. Or was she my great-great-great grandmother? My mother couldn’t pin point which one exactly. Sadly, stories regarding our great-great grandmother’s life during that time have disintegrated, being passed from generation to generation within my family history. My mother did say that Carmen Olivia was very close to the great Eva and was part of her entourage on the Rainbow Tour with her in 1947. Carmen Olivia never revealed any deep, dark secrets about her relationship to the first lady, but when Eva passed away in 1952 my great-great grandmother was devastated by her death. Carmen first met the Peróns when she was part of the descamisados revolution. My mother said Carmen spoke with esteemed respect and devotion about Eva. She was actually there at the Casa Rosada when Juan and Eva walked onto the balcony after his release from the police. But my relative refused to ever speak ill of Eva as she loved her deeply. Eva was, after all, deemed by the Argentine Congress as the "Spiritual Leader of the Nation".
What is my mother’s name you might ask? Eva. She was named in honor and memory of the first lady of Argentina at the request of Carmen’s wishes that one her future grandchildren be named after her. The final connection here, Eva Perón died on July 26, 1952. I was born on July 26. My mother’s side of the family, who are hard-core, devoted Roman Catholics like Eva, feel that was a sign from Eva. Who knows. All I do know is that I don’t have a balcony to lift my hands upward or a majestic, opulent rock/pop opera written about me by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Just like Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita followed the same origins in regards to some of Lloyd Webber’s past musicals. Evita made its debut in 1976 as a rock opera concept album (JCS was also first a rock concept album). The score and lyrics do follow pretty close to actual historical facts with some changes and “twisting” of the truth for artistic reasons, such as the creation of the character Che. Lyricist Tim Rice’s original concept was for him to be the narrator/Greek chorus within the piece, not to base him on the Marxist revolutionist Che Guevara. But original director, Harold Prince, demanded that all the actors who would play Che to use Guevara as their major reference and role model. However, the Alan Parker 1996 film version made the character devoid of any of Che’s physical qualities or background. There are some who felt the overall musical undervalued and belittled Eva’s achievements.
The stage version finally arrived at the West End in 1978 where it became a humongous hit, making a star out of Elaine Paige who originated the role in London. The musical made its way to Broadway in 1979 where it ran for 1,567 performances before closing in June 1983. A then little known actress named Patti LuPone would portray the role of the first lady of Argentina, but now without great backstage lore and controversy. Originally Paige was supposed to come to America to recreate her role on the Great White Way but Actor’s Equity denied the use of a non-American in a leading role. Harold Prince tried to get Paige into the role by claiming that LuPone was having severe vocal problems and was not up to the artistic challenge the role vocally demands. He was denied a second time by Actor’s Equity.
I have my own personal copy of LuPone’s juicy autobiography and she wrote this about her experience working with Lloyd Webber and Prince. “Evita was the worst experience of my life. I was screaming my way through a part that could only have been written by a man who hates women. And I had no support from the producers, who wanted a star performance onstage but treated me as an unknown backstage. It was like Beirut, and I fought like a banshee.” She also felt it was Prince who spread the rumors to the press during previews that she couldn’t sing the role just to build publicity around the troubled musical before it even opened. The musical would win six Tony Awards, with LuPone having the last laugh as she walked away with the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical. Evita was also the first London production ever in Tony Award history to win Best Musical.
Parker’s film version starred Madonna and Antonio Banderas. The film received mixed reviews but won the Golden Globe for Best Musical Film, and for Madonna the Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy. It also received five Academy Award nominations (many felt Madonna deserved a nod, but did not receive one), taking home the Oscar for Best Original Song. Lloyd Webber composed a new, beautiful ballad titled “You Must Love Me” for the film which was inserted into the London, Broadway, and tour revivals.
In 2006, Evita saw a London revival, earning ecstatic reviews due to its complete reconstruction of the entire piece, musically and artistically. Elena Roger’s Eva received thunderous raves from the West End critics but the musical ran less than a year.
This “new” vision of Evita was given a revival on Broadway in 2012, again starring Roger along with Latin heartthrob/Grammy Award-winning star Ricky Martin and Broadway veterans Michael Cerveris and Max Von Essen. But as if karma was coming back to haunt Lloyd Webber, Roger did not receive the glowing reviews from the New York critics as she had in London. She also began to suffer major vocal problems and also started to miss performances. On the Tony Awards telecast (The musical received a nod for Best Revival), it was Ricky Martin and the ensemble who performed and not one of Roger’s major solos. Ouch. Like the London revival, the Broadway version would only last less than a year.
It is this same Broadway revival version that has become the current national tour that opened at Dallas Summer Musicals Tuesday evening. But I did find out at the cast party later that evening that even this tour was tinkered, changed, and altered yet again from the recent revival.
Actually this is not the first time Evita was placed on the DSM stage. Back in 1998, Dallas Summer Musicals brought the 20th Anniversary Tour to the Music Hall, which I saw twice! The reason was due to the tour de force performances by Natalie Toro as Eva and a then unknown named Raul Esparza who portrayed Che. Toro was Latin, thus she brought out so much authenticity and emotional connection to the role that I had never seen before or since from other actresses who tackled this role. It is both perplexing and somewhat insulting that actresses of Latin heritage are not given the chance to play this role. For example current Broadway veteran Natascia Diaz. Ms. Toro provided magnificent subtext that only a real Latina could feel what Eva was feeling, and Toro bled that out of her soul in the production. She was superb.
When the curtains opened on this current version of Evita, the first thought that came to my head was, “Thank god no scaffolding!” Over the years (including the 1998 tour) various productions have used black iron scaffolding to serve as the entire set for Evita. Several local Dallas productions did the same thing. I hated that damn scaffolding! I “get” what they were going for, but jeez, can we see some actual sets!
Christopher Oram’s sets are a masterpiece of originality and ingenious design. This is how the stage production should look. The sides of the stage have huge walls/columns, while the central piece is a massive two-level set that creates so many gorgeous images that slip into complete sync with the staging and blocking. The bottom floor in the first act has arcs made of stone and glassed hanging lighting fixtures. For the second act these arcs now have the dark cherry wood doors of the Casa Rosada. The top floor is an ornate, finely detailed recreation of the Casa Rosada’s palace balcony. Even the slender windows are designed to resemble the ones at the actual palace. So believe me, when that oh-so-famous ballad is sung on that balcony, you get a lump in your throat. You feel you are right there at the actual palace! It is a massive, towering scenic piece that takes your breath away. Oram has other pieces fly in or come gliding quietly from the wings. For the first time ever we finally get to see the dingy, grimy bar/club where Magaldi sings. Watch for a hysterical bit that Oram created for Magaldi’s number as he sings “On This night of a Thousand Stars”. A sky-high pair of elegantly designed doors serves as Eva’s first apartment, and other pieces are used throughout the evening.
Aiding Oram’s fantastic scenic creations is the projection design by Zachary Borovay. It is very smart to not use these projections all evening long, but when they are used, it not only elevates the set design, but also the emotion of the piece. The videos of Eva’s actual funeral are heart gripping to observe. And the video creation for the Rainbow Tour did wonders to make the lyrics come alive and move the pace.
Oram has also designed what seem to be hundreds of costumes that are executed to perfection. He clearly studied the period and Eva’s actual taste in fashion. The ensemble is transformed into everything you can imagine, from the simple clothing of the descamisados to the crisp, rigid costumes for the various soldiers to the tasteful, rich costumes of the wealthy. All of them are so detailed in period. And, for some of the new changes done to the material, there are marvelously-designed new costumes such as the black, satin-beaded dresses the tango dancers wear in “I’ll Be Surprisingly Good for You”, or the sensual costumes the prostitutes wear during “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”. Che is wisely costumed as a fellow descamisado in grey and black. But where Oram really has fun is creating a plethora of fabric riches that Eva wears, from the tangerine-hued, simple dress in her first entrance to the lavish, exquisite outfits she wears as the first lady of Argentina. Wait till you see Oram’s version of the infamous, white ball gown for the balcony scene. I gasped in my seat when she was revealed. Every costume she wears is adorned with jewels, brooches, gloves and hats.
Now, either I never picked up on this or maybe it has never been done before, but I noticed a powerful subtext connecting character to costume. When Eva first meets Juan Perón she is dressed in a shimmering, satin, white gown with jewel encrusted top, and then she wears the white ball gown. When she does her final waltz with Che, her gown is a blinding-white creation covered in beading. For her final moments of life, she is again in a simple, white hospital gown. This thread of connecting such an ethereal color to characterization is flawless.
Special mention also goes to Richard Mawbey’s wig and hair design. The role of Eva goes through a parade of wigs, as do the rest of the females. Each wig is designed and styled in the correct period. Sitting so close to the stage I could clearly see the fine detail in every wig. But they also look so real and the colors of the wigs match the skin tones of the cast. That’s rare in today’s use of wigs!
The lighting design by Neil Austin is sumptuous, luxurious, and grandiose. Scene after scene he creates these powerful images of lighting that pump up the emotion of the music. There are moments and scenes where I actually whispered, “WOW!” because of the power of his lighting creations. The way he designs for the arcs on the bottom floor of the central set piece, to the various lighting for the palace windows, and so on add so much visual depth to the musical. He even has ornate, gold chandeliers hanging above the hall within the palace! I won’t spoil the surprises for you here, but what Austin has designed for the balcony scene is beyond powerful. For Eva’s entrance, all I can say is you have to see it. Another great lighting design surprise happens during Che and Eva’s “High Flying Adore” and their final waltz. Austin’s lighting design will put goose pumps all over you.
I have seen quite a few productions of Evita. I know the score frontwards and back. Because of my family’s background, I bought the concept album and then the original cast recording. This is a challenging piece to follow. It took several times to see it on its feet to understand the story. But even then you get a sense there is something missing or not fleshed out. Finally, the current tour version has fixed those problems.
When it comes to revivals, I don’t want to see a replica of the original. That bores me to tears and puts me in a slumber. You want a bold stroke with an artistic brush to splatter across the original and give it a fresh, new coat of originality that actually embellishes the original. As you can tell by the above, they do just that with the design elements. The same goes with the direction and choreography.
Seth Sklar-Heyn (Tour Director) , Michael Grandage (Director), Chris bailey (Tour Choreographer), and Rob Ashford (Choreographer) dissect the score like a team of archeologists, digging, pecking and carefully excavating within the score and lyrics to fill in and repair those chipped and missing pieces. They not only succeed but have brought forth the most gripping, powerful and emotional version of Evita I have ever seen! For those hard-core Evita fans, what they have done in staging, direction and choreography will blow you away and leave you flabbergasted. From the first wave of crashing orchestration at the announcement of Eva’s death, this team changes every single scene and number to create enthralling subtext. Cuts, edits and alterations are done throughout the score. This actually helps the pace and keeps the storyline anchored emotionally throughout the musical. As a devoted fan of the show, I kept whispering softly to myself, “OMG! Wow!” because of what the staging and direction has done to the piece.
In the number, “Buenos Aires”, instead of having tango dancers the ensemble becomes three sets of classes - the poor, the rich, and the military régime. Above them, Che explains the three as Eva dances and slithers through each “class”. This gives the audience rich subtext as to how Eva would conquer them all.
In the original (and every production since), to signify the change of the political parties and leaders in “The Art of the Possible”, they sit in rocking chairs, as if playing “Musical Chairs”. For this revival, the men are choreographed to battle each other like gladiators in the coliseum. The final great touch is how Peron wins at this game in the end. Just visually outstanding!
For “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, each time I have seen it, the mistress is alone, singing on her suitcase in front of Peron’s door. Here she sings on the empty streets of Buenos Aires, but upstage you see in the shadows within the catacombs of the set prostitutes seducing soldiers and customers. That subtext just bleeds emotional sorrow, loss, loneliness and abandonment for the young mistress’s future. Gripping is all I can add.
In the second act there is normally a group of children singing, “Santa Evita”, sweet and cute. Here instead a mother sings the song to Eva to bless her child. As mother and father hand the child to Eva, it is a moving gesture of love. But then Eva wisely moves to make certain the photographers get a great angle of her and the baby. Then she hands a rosary to the parents, all in front of the cameras. So, while this gorgeous Latin hymn is sung to their patron saint Evita, she is more concerned with the press. How’s that for powerful subtext?!?
And the infamous balcony scene for “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”? Well, you have to see it. Period. I wiped tears off my face during that number. The trinity of design, direction and performer here is haunting.
Directors Grandage and Heyn clearly make sure that the cast gives the lyrics depth, emotion, and subtext. Normally past productions the focus was on just belting out the score all evening long. Not here. The emotion and subtext is put at the forefront which gives the piece superior results all through the work.
A standing ovation should also go to Musical Director William Waldrop and the entire orchestra for bringing Webber’s score to lush, elegant life. There are new orchestrations and arrangements that throughout the evening left me loving every measure of music.
Ashford’s choreography pays great homage to the Argentinean tango. He also uses Latin dances like the cha-cha, rumba, waltz, samba, and Paso doble. Throughout the musical he adds new choreography and brings in dancers where in the past there were none. And these additions fit like a glove within the score. For example, Magaldi never dances in past versions. Here he does and it really opens up his character more than before. The choreography for “Buenos Aires”, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You”, “Rainbow Tour”, “And the Money Kept Rolling In” and “A Waltz for Eva and Che” is transcendent. I’ve never seen a production of Evita that has so much engrossing, subtext ebb from the choreography.
Making all this work needs a cast that can accomplish all the above. Well, let me give you an idea of what this cast does that I have RARELY EVER seen happen at the Music Hall. When the show ended, you could hear a pin drop. The audience literally had to take a breath, reach for tissue, and take in what just occurred before their eyes. 99% of the time in the orchestra section, people get up and leave during the finale or curtain call. Even with the best shows I have seen this happens. Tuesday evening, barely a person left because of the work this tour de force company left them (as well as me and my guest) in utter disbelief. This cast buries themselves deep into the material, resulting in the greatest production of Evita I have ever seen in my life.
This company, from the ensemble to the principals, they had the BEST diction I’ve heard in any production at The Music Hall. Being such a gargantuan theater, diction can become the evil step child of any musical performed there. In this production, the diction is so crisp and crystal clear, I could hear every single word. Evita is a very complex score to sing. At times, a rapid succession of lyrics is flung out during some numbers, and yet I heard every single word. Peerless perfection of diction from the ENTIRE company.
This ensemble must be exhausted by the end of the evening. They have a never ending parade of costume changes, including wigs and shoes, for each scene. They portray a dizzy array of characters throughout the piece. From my seat I could see their facial expressions clearly and every one of them stayed in the moment. You can tell so easily when an ensemble is “phoning it in”. This Evita ensemble does not. They greatly support the piece’s subtext and emotion all evening long. Their execution of the choreography is first rate. When the Tango calls for sensuality and eroticism, they slather themselves with those emotions and dance. As singers, I can add that Sir Lloyd Webber himself would be pleased. The harmonies and crescendos are so in sync. You could actually hear the breakdown of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses all blending to robust vocal results. I say this in every review; an ensemble can make or break a show. They are the framework and backbone of every musical. Just because you’re not the lead doesn’t mean you’re not important. In fact they are more important than the leads at times because the ensemble has to fill in the gaps the principals cannot do, or they are required to move the plot and pace. This ensemble succeeds over and over again in that area and all are stars in my humble opinion.
Alison Mahoney, as the mother of the child who sings “Santa Maria” to Eva, does a very moving and heartwarming rendition of this hymn. As noted before, it is usually a chorus of children that sing this song. Now it works TONS better emotionally with a poor mother singing praise to her patron saint Eva. Mahoney has a refined soprano voice that gives the hymn such reverence and beauty.
When Krystina Alabado first appears onstage as the mistress, the confusion lies in seeing an innocent teen in a simple pajama gown. I thought maybe it was Juan’s youngest daughter. Upon realizing she’s the mistress – well, it actually startled the audience! She looks so young and gentle, so that when Eva throws her out into the streets, it jars you emotionally. Ms. Alabado said that she and the directors did extensive research and found out Juan Perón did like his mistresses to be in their teenage years. Physically, Alabado fits the mold of a teenage mistress perfectly. She’s a small, beautiful girl with big, soft eyes that glisten in the stage lights, but don’t let her tiny frame fool you; this girl has a set of vocal pipes that will blow you away. The song sung by the mistress, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, has become a staple for so many sopranos to use as their audition song.
Alabado’s subtext within the lyrics of this well-known ballad is spellbinding. Past actresses rush to the “dramatic” button of the song. Alabado doesn’t. She instead makes the audience really realize what kind of life is before her now. She sings with a rich, immaculate soprano voice that glides all over the music, and she takes each verse and peels it to the very core of the emotion that needs to be exposed. She goes full out when the song demands it, then reels it in to show honest vulnerability. When Ms. Alabado finished her song, she was met with screams and cheers. The patrons behind me whispered to each other, “That girl has such a voice!” Agreed. Ms. Alabado delivers a performance that will stay with you way beyond the curtain call.
In past productions, Magaldi has been portrayed as a proud peacock with buffoonery overtones. Magaldi is a “D list” singer performing in the dregs of the seediest clubs and bars. Physically, it has been cast with character actors.
In the Broadway revival they went with a totally different approach and the role was cast with Broadway heartthrob Max Von Essen, who earned raves for his performance.
For the national tour they continued this casting choice and cast a tall, muscular and incredibly handsome actor, Christopher Johnstone, to portray “this second rate tango singer named Magaldi” (a lyric that Che sings to describe him). I actually expected the women in the bar scene to rip off Johnstone’s shirt ala Zac Ephron at the recent MTV Movie Awards! Johnstone possesses a remarkable tenor voice that fills the entire Music Hall. It is a clean tenor vocal with a vibrato that stays in total control. His belt flies into the rafters when he hits those high notes in his solo, “On This Night of a Thousand Stars”. Johnstone does not use the usual comedic traits that seem to come with the role. Instead, as he tries to sing over the noise of the drunken patrons, he gives the character a sense of frustration and seething anger as to where his talents have landed him. Johnstone dives deep into the character, giving Magaldi new emotional shades and subtext I had never seen before, and what he creates is outstanding. His stage presence is so magnetic that your attention continuously goes toward him.
When Magaldi brings Eva to Buenos Aires or as she calls it “the big apple”, that’s when the company does a full out musical number. In every other production, Magaldi carries Eva’s suitcase and follows her or tries to drag her away from all the festivities. Once again, the directors, and now choreographers, create something bold, new and exciting for Magaldi. Johnstone joins in and does this dazzling tango with Eva and then flows into the company. You can’t help but get a tad jealous of Johnstone’s trifecta of chiseled body, matinee idol looks, and magnificent singing voice - and the guy can dance like a pro. Damn him! LOL.
Johnstone displays his anger and resentment vividly when he is thrown out of the revolving door that leads to Eva’s bed in the number “Good Night and Thank You”. He doesn’t go for the usual antics past actors fall into, but instead gives an underlying tone of revenge and machismo that solidifies his characterization. Johnstone delivers a commanding, reinvented and dynamic performance as Magaldi.
Sean MacLaughlin portrays Juan Perón , the leader of Argentina who falls under Eva’s spell. He is a tall, imposing, good looking man bathed in blinding stage presence. Like his co-stars, his diction is flawless. He has a booming baritone voice that fills the hall with a sublime outcome. MacLaughlin (like the other principals) completely avoids the “been there, done that” approach to his characterization and performance of Juan.
His facial expressions and body language speak volumes in regards to subtext. He clearly loves Eva, but watch his reactions in the balcony scene. MacLaughlin shows with slow realization that he is not the star of his own “show”, it is his wife. You see a man who is perplexed, jealous, confused, and even hurt by how the spotlight is not on him or his political achievements, but instead it is his wife. MacLaughlin displays all these emotions in various stages throughout his performance. It is so exciting and a pleasure to see an actor to allow the subtext and emotion bleed through his acting and characterization, both physically and emotionally. MacLaughlin gives Juan Peron sizzling, erotic heat that was sorely missing in past productions. His chemistry with Caroline Bowman as Eva drips with sensuality and heat.
Observe how he reacts at the end of Act One when he expresses to Eva how they could lead a simple life of eating breakfast in bed and doing crossword puzzles. McLaughlin’s Che strongly believes in that dream, and watch how he reacts when Eva gives her response. His facial expressions show a myriad of emotions.
His second act work is magnificent, from the balcony scene to the finale. Believe me, you will shed some tears as Eva sings “You Must Love Me”, due in part to how MacLaughlin reacts to her. In this scene, combined with Eva’s final radio address, his singing and acting hits hard emotionally. I’ve never seen an actor deliver such dramatic, organic raw power to that role but Mr. MacLaughlin achieves that rare feat in this production.
Back in 2011 there was a lot of buzz coming from Stratford Shakespeare Festival, in Stratford, Ontario, regarding their production of Jesus Christ Superstar, and in particular the performance of Josh Young as Judas. The reviews were so overwhelmingly glowing that the production moved to the La Jolla Playhouse. Once again the production received rapturous reviews, and all of them praising the work done by Young. It was a show that demanded to be brought to Broadway, and that they did in 2012. Young received critical raves for his performance, earning him a Theatre World award and a coveted Tony Award nomination.
I was able to have a terrific one on one conversation with Mr. Young before the masses of guests arrived at the after party. He told me that on opening week of JCS he actually got very sick and practically lost his voice but he forged through. We had an insightful conversation regarding his approach to the role of Che. A role he had done also at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
As stated earlier, the role of Che is a confusing role. Most directors, like original director Harold Prince, wanted the role to be framed around Che Guevara. Young stated that when he did it in Stratford, he did go in that path.
The 2012 Broadway production avoided that connection completely. Instead, for the revival (and the tour) Che is reverted back to the way it was conceived for the concept album, that the role of Che is one of the descamisados, an everyman of the lower/working class, thus serving as the “voice” of the people of Argentina. Young added he wanted to show his Che was a man who believed in Eva because he had a wife and child to feed and she, with her political clout, could help him and his family. Young clearly achieves that goal with his superlative, monumental performance as Che.
Every actor I have seen portray Che does not sing the role in the key of the original actor who created the role for Broadway, Mandy Patinkin. Either the music has been transposed, altered or changed to fit the actor’s range. Or if they did attempt to go in that key, they struggled vocally each time I saw it. They strained to reach those notes, or go into falsetto. Ricky Martin did the role in the 2012 revival but couldn’t sing in those keys. You can clearly hear it in the cast recording.
Josh Young not only sings in the original keys of the score, he even goes beyond that range! His diction is perfect from beginning to end. I mean hell, even on the original cast recording I can’t understand everything Patinkin sings. Not with Mr. Young! You can hear every single word, every lyric, and every verse. Clean, pure, solid diction.
When you get a rock/pop tenor voice like Young tacking this complex score, you are in musical theater heaven! Every song he sings is like a shimmering bauble, that by the end you have a priceless string of vocal jewels around your senses. He pushes full vocal force in the baritone part of his voice with ease. But when it comes to hitting those oh-so-familiar high notes, he goes straight into them without a break or hint of hesitation. Believe me, when he went for the money note, he WENT for the money note! Then he does something that I know will make die hard Evita fans feel chills down their spines. During the number “And the Money Kept Rolling In”, Young went into tenor rock stratosphere that completely blew me out of my seat! We are talking full on, rock belt! He does not strain or crack, and then proceeds to hold this unbelievably high tenor note to the very end! That’s when you do the “drop the hand-held mic on the floor” motion cause you just won the challenge Mr. Young!
Young’s acting craft is the final tier to an already star in the making performance. There are scenes where he serves simply as an observer. A soft light always follow him so you can see his facial expressions. He is always there, in the moment, never giving even the slightest hint of false or robotic reactions. His Che is always “on”. His stage presence is electrifying and natural. Past actors tend to look at Che like a ringmaster, but it really doesn’t work. Young avoids that. He instead gives Che honest, natural compassion, hatred, anger, confusion, admiration, and dignity to not only Eva, Juan and the people of Argentina, but also to himself. That is the one element that has always been missing, and Young finds it! Watch his facial expressions during several key scenes throughout this rock/pop opera. They speak volumes on what Young’s Che is feeling and thinking. Young is very aware he is “carrying” the audience through this journey so he makes sure the audience does not get left behind. Josh Young delivers one of those performances that audiences will remember forever. It is not to be missed!
Caroline Bowman must feel the weight and magnitude of the role of Eva Peron. The poor girl has to follow the legendary Patti Lupone, Elaine Paige, and Natalie Toro. Then there are those Madonna fans! I never saw Lupone or Paige in the role. But I have seen many productions of it, including several here in the DFW area. For me personally, my favorite actress to take on the role has been Natalie Toro in the 20th anniversary tour in 1998. No one else before or since has succeeded in the role like Toro did. Then came Ms. Bowman, and she did the impossible; she delivered a most unparalleled, breathtaking, sensational performance I have ever seen in a production of Evita.
And to think, this is the very same actress who came through Dallas in the national tour of Spamalot as the “Lady of the Lake”!
Ms. Bowman vividly shows the audience she has done her research on the role and the life of Eva. Through every pore of her body seeps the life of the first lady of Argentina who came close to becoming the first female Vice President. Her character arc is unbreakable and focused from the very moment she steps into the stage lights. She begins her journey as a young, hungry, poor girl who wants a better life, then to a powerful leader dressed to the nines, ending as a woman who is dying of cancer. Eva was the first Argentinean to go under chemotherapy. Bowman’s transformation is astonishing to see unfurl as she takes the audience through Eva’s life. Her stage presence is hypnotic. You could see the shimmering illumination of her stage presence from the highest tower in the world.
Her facial expressions will grasp you emotionally throughout her performance. Her liquid, alluring, brown eyes seduce you in one scene, and then display cold restrained anger in the next scene. Though Eva is loving towards Juan and the people of her country, Bowman uses her face to show the audience what Eva’s heart and mind are actually thinking and feeling. What she did with her second act work left the audience spellbound. I’ve never seen any actress who takes on the role of Eva go so deep into a character like Bowman did for the second act journey of Eva. It is devastating and compelling. If some of those last scenes don’t move you to tears, then you need to go see the Wizard about getting a heart! Bowman goes in such new directions emotionally with the role that have never been done before. I was mesmerized.
Patti Lupone clearly stated several times in her autobiography how extremely difficult it was to sing this role. It is one of the hardest roles in the musical theater canon. Webber wrote impossibly high, soaring soprano notes throughout the score - notes that no mere mortal can reach. Lupone could. But she paid the price dearly by losing and damaging her voice in the process. In some places, the score has the actress go from alto to soprano in one swift note or belt on the highest soprano note known to mankind.
Ms. Bowman does the impossible; she succeeds here vocally with stunning, glorious success. But what really sealed the deal for me is how she interpreted the lyrics. Instead of screeching and belting all evening long like other Evas from the past, she skins each lyric to the bare bone to get the raw, organic reality within the emotion and characterization of the songs, lyrics, and the role. It is just like a cool, tall glass of sparkling champagne the way she interprets her songs. Plus, she has to dance - a lot! For “Buenos Aires” she has to do the tango with Magaldi and then the company, and then belt at the very end, and the girl does just that! In “Rainbow High” the way she does those key modulations to the big, belting end had audience members in the balconies actually scream “Bravo!” There is not a single solo that fails; she pours her blood, sweat and tears into that music, and it shows.
So many of her songs are show stoppers for me, but I have to say that “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” “Eva’s Final Broadcast” and “You Must Love Me” were my personal favorites. The way she peels layer after layer of raw, emotional realness in those ballads just moved me to tears.
I bet if Caroline Bowman had done the Broadway revival she would have walked away with the Tony Award. She is Evita. It is a performance that will steal your heart and will become one of the greatest performances to ever grace any stage.
I know that I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but honestly, Dallas Summer Musicals has set the bar high in bringing the very best from Broadway to Dallas this season so far. I’ve yet to see a clunker or lackluster production. Ghost, White Christmas, The Little Mermaid, The Wizard of Oz, and of course We will Rock You; each production held great surprises but also provided some of the best musicals of the season so far. Add Evita to the very top of the list. So far We Will Rock You and Evita are my choices for the Best Musicals of the 2014-2015 season. It’s going to be very hard to beat them.
For those of us who are addicted to musical theater, Evita is at the top of lists of all-time favorite musicals. If it is for you, then I DEMAND that you see this revival. It is a version of Evita that has NEVER been done. The design elements, the direction, the choreography have broken new artistic ground on this Lloyd-Webber classic. And to have this level of Broadway- caliber talent on stage in one cast is a rare feat to achieve. I could go back again and still find new things I didn’t see before. This Evita is a magnum opus, tour de force production that will have you kicking yourself for years if you miss seeing it!
Dallas Summer Musicals
The Music Hall in Fair Park
909 1st Avenue
Dallas, TX 75210
The musical runs through April 27th
Tuesday – Sunday at 7:30 pm, Saturday-Sunday at 1:30 pm, with an additional performance on Thursday, April 17th at 1:30 pm. There is no performance on Sunday, April 20th at 1:30 pm.
Ticket prices range from $20.00 - $90.00 plus service fee and can be purchased via Ticketmaster at www.dallassummermusicals.org. They are also available at The Box Office, 5959 Preston Royal Shopping Center, Dallas, 75230, at www.ticketmaster.com, or at any Ticketmaster outlet. Groups of 10 or more receive a 15% discount and priority seating. Call 214-426-GROUP (4768) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.