When Tony-nominee Josh Young intones, “…Oh what a show” in the opening minutes of “Evita,” he’s foreshadowing patrons’ next two hours.
Broadway’s brand is well earned with this spectacular Broadway in Chicago touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s near-opera, at the Oriental Theatre through October 6.
There’s neither a weak link in Director Michael Grandage’s stellar, professional cast nor his gilded and, at times, haunting flashback production of this piece of the American musical theater canon.
The story of small town actress Eva Peron’s sleeping her way to the top of Argentina’s political power structure in the 1940s is well-known in large part because of Lloyd Webber’s iconic treatment. The original Broadway show won seven 1980 Tonys, including best musical, score and book.
Chicago’s production is a spinoff of the 2012 Broadway revival that includes the song, “You Must Love Me,” the best part of the 1996 film adaptation starring Madonna as Eva and Antonio Banderas as antagonist narrator Che Guevara. “Evita”’s full synopsis and history may be found here.
Put Madonna’s typecasting aside and make room for Caroline Bowman, who left the Broadway cast of 2013’s Tony-winning best musical, “Kinky Boots,” for the opportunity to channel the Argentine Rainbow. Nowhere is Bowman’s performance better than in the show’s signature scene, where feigned humility coupled with the powerful, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” morph calculating climber into revered saint.
Bowman also shares and plays well with others. Her Evita exquisitely complements Christopher Johnstone’s lounge-singing Migaldi, too-youthful-looking but terrifically talented Sean MacLaughlin’s Juan Peron, and sweet-singing (“Another Suitcase in Another Hall”) Peron mistressKrystina Alabado.
But it’s Young’s embodiment of Guevara that by itself demands area musical theater fans get a ticket to this show. His performance is nothing short of revolutionary.
Young’s dynamic presence, impeccable voice and already rising star (he earned a 2012 Tony nomination for his performance of Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar”) put him in line to assume male-Sutton Foster status on America’s biggest stages. (A piece of Young singing “Evita”’s, “High Flying, Adored” and other samples of his work may be found here.)
Adding to these performances are fabulous sets expected of a show carrying the Broadway moniker, intricate choreography by Tony winner Rob Ashford (steered by dance captain Ian Liberto of Libertyville) and the familiarly stunning Lloyd Webber score with lyrics by Tim Rice.
It’s no spoiler to share that the show opens and closes with Eva’s funeral. But it is perplexing that this revival ends more despondently than need be. That’s particularly true because it adds an end-of-production “Montage” (akin to the “Joseph Megamix” added to Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph…Dreamcoat”) that would allow for a more hopeful final retrospection.
While that doesn’t take away from the overall splendor of the event, it does cheat this wonderful cast out of the audience’s fullest possible enthusiasm at closing bows.
Still, when these performers walk offstage after each performance, they should feel confident in this high-flying production and know they are absolutely adored.
“Evita” performs all evenings except Monday and matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, through October 6 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. Tickets range from $27 to $95, plus fees. More information is available at BroadwayInChicago.com.
Barry Reszel is a Libertyville-based writer, at-home dad and executive director of the not-for-profit entertainment company Liberty Town Productions.