When: Through Oct. 6
Where: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph
Info: (800) 775-2000; www.BroadwayInChicago
Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
Eva Peron may have died of cancer in 1952, at the age of just 33. But ever since 1978 she has been very much alive and well on the world stage thanks to “Evita,” the ever-thrilling Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical that remains the sharpest and most searing work in the canon of both men.
Che Guevara died young, too (he was 39), but his spirit, too, haunts “Evita” in the form of the show’s insightful, sardonic, just slightly anachronistic commentator. And of course Che’s face can still be found on the t-shirts worn by youthful, wannabe revolutionaries the world over.
Politics and show business. It is the quintessential power marriage. And no one recognized that better than Eva Peron, the fiercely ambitious girl from a small town in Argentina who was hellbent on getting to the big city of Buenos Aires and rising to the very top, and who had no compunction at all about arriving there on the coattails of powerful men. Eva loathed the bourgeoisie, and had a perfect understanding of the poor and working class, and how her Dior outfits, as well as her largesse with the national treasury, could feed their aspirations and their needs. But then so, in his rather different way, did Che understand this game, too.
All this, and more, is made crystal clear in the production of “Evita” devised by British director Michael Grandage that was seen first as a 2006 revival in London and a Tony Award-winning 2012 remount on Broadway, and is now in a national tour that opened Thursday at the Oriental Theatre.
This is a highly stylized show, and Grandage and his choreographer, Rob Ashford (who works clever variations on the tango throughout), keep it that way, even adding to its chilly edginess. Yet there is one scene in the second act that changes all that as Eva, the First Lady who seems to have grabbed hold of everything, suddenly realizes she is dying and, for the first time, wants to hear that she is loved.
Caroline Bowman, tall and leggy compared to the petite real-life Eva, uses her strong, at times even harsh voice and quicksilver moves to fine effect in what is a marathon role. (Desi Oakley is the Eva alternate.) Brash and calculating in a Lady Macbeth mode, she steers clear of all sentimentality until that one crucial moment, which she nails. So does Sean MacLaughlin, excellent as Juan Peron, the clearly limited military man who is reluctant to reach for the presidency, and seems unmoored once he realizes his wife has lost her grip. Josh Young is quite a boyish Che with a golden voice. Though less acerbic and intrusive in his portrayal than some, he is keenly intelligent. And like all the actors here, his diction is impeccable.
Christopher Johnstone plays Magaldi, the second-rate tango singer who becomes Eva’s first conquest and ticket out. Krystina Alabado, who has a lovely voice, is Juan’s waiflike mistress who Eva very bluntly pushes onto the street.
You might not cry for this “Evita,” but you will watch her intently.