by Barrett White
When Eva Peron sings of bringing “star quality” to Buenos Aires, actress Desi Oakley (who is understudy for the national tour’s title role and was performing the night of “Out at TUTS”) certainly brought it to Houston. Though Oakley can be seen in the ensemble most nights, she was shining brightly on the evening of May 7 in that iconic gown as she sings to her people, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”
The revival tour is a refreshing burst of creative and authentic choreography (by choreographer Rob Ashford) and what Patti LuPone herself would quip is a score that “hates women,” as Eva’s voice is commanded to soar through the rafters in such numbers as “Buenos Aires” and the show-stopping Act I finale, “A New Argentina.”
Evita first premiered in 1978 with the legendary Patti LuPone in the title role and Mandy Patinkin as Che, who narrates and interjects throughout. This was an era of Broadway when the stars of the show were known to be given the spotlight, front and center, with performances focused mainly on their voice and method, carrying the show on their backs with power ballads and an ensemble behind them dancing until there was blood in their shoes.
Today’s Broadway audience yearns for a more inclusive stage, requiring the leads to be more involved with the ensemble and engaging more heavily with the dance (think of Sutton Foster’s high-kicking Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes as opposed to Ethel Merman’s or Patti LuPone’s, and this new Evita contrasting the 1978 Broadway run). This, of course, is in no way blasphemy against the goddesses of Broadway (past or present, as Merman and LuPone happen to be idols of mine), but rather merely an observation of the shift in focus of the role of the leading lady of the Great White Way, a shift that I am very comfortable with and pleased to see.
The dance is especially captivating. The show is basically sung through as a sort of “rock opera,” leaving no room for straight dialogue and all the room of the stage for a subtle dance in the shadows behind the scene in focus, or a sly costume change or prop-swap as the scene progresses.
For many musicals, but especially one by Andrew Lloyd Webber (and even more especially Evita), a company needs to have powerful voices and the ability to dance for an instrumental break and still pick up the lyrics afterward without sounding out of breath. “Buenos Aires” is a perfect example of that, a number which has a full company of Eva, the aristocracy, the military, and the impoverished on stage, all kicking, tangoing, dipping, and traversing the stage in perfect visual harmony for over a full minute before Eva flawlessly picks up the lyrics where she left off without missing a beat.
Supporting Eva is Che, played by Broadway “heartthrob” Josh Young. Juan Peron is played by Sean McLaughlin, and Augustin Magaldi, “the first man to be of use for Eva,” is played by Christopher Johnstone. The men of the show do nothing to slow down the powerful vocal impact of the show. From Johnstone’s Magaldi first appearing as a tango singer in Junin to Peron’s final farewell to his wife, and Che’s harmonic sarcasm throughout, these men truly bring what supporting roles should bring to the stage: support. So much so that they basically steal the show themselves.
Be sure to catch Evita, presented by Theatre Under the Stars, playing at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts through May 18.
EVITA: The New National Tour stars Carolyn Bowman as Eva Peron (with Desi Oakley on Saturday matinee and Sunday evening performances), Josh Young as Che, Sean McLaughlin as Juan Peron, and Christopher Johnstone as Augustin Magaldi. Produced by Troika Entertainment, et al. Directed by Michael Grandage (Broadway) and Seth Sklar-Heyn (national tour). Choreography by Rob Ashford (Broadway), Chris Bailey (national tour), and Jenny Ford (associate choreographer). Written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Visit thehobbycenter.org for more information, including performance dates and times and ticket prices.