Through March 16
is not your typical musical, and Eva Perón is not your typical heroine. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s mythologizing tale of the ambitious woman who rose from poverty to become Argentina’s adored first lady is more of an operatic biography than a plot-driven show, and Eva is more divisive than likeable.
This means that the touring production of Evita
currently playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center
is a reprieve from typical Broadway fare—it’s darker, more complex and filled with talk of morality. But, in an exposition-heavy show about political machinations and social climbing, it’s hard to find a fully sympathetic character.
In the fragmented first act, the scene shifts may be difficult to follow for those unfamiliar with the Peróns’ story. Eva transforms from a big-dreaming teenager in the sticks to an opportunistic seductress in a matter of minutes and a few tango steps. Similarly, director Michael Grandage and choreographer Rob Ashford illustrate Juan Perón’s rise to power in a confusing, overly stylized wrestling match between political contenders.
But the power of the leads’ voices and their commitment to character help assuage any narrative bumps. In the hands of Caroline Bowman, Eva is a hard, manipulative woman addicted to winning hearts and willing to leverage her background as an actress to do just that. Bowman’s radiant looks and soaring voice help explain Eva’s ability to generate such adoration from the masses—this woman has presence.
As Eva’s husband, Juan—a man whose questionable ethics are matched only by his wife’s—Sean MacLaughlin is rich-voiced and expressive. And Josh Young’s Che, the narrator who serves as a sort of sardonic Greek chorus, dominates the stage with his lush, articulate singing and fantastic energy.
Above all, this production is slick. It’s nice to look at, with a lavish Casa Rosada set and 1940s period costumes by Christopher Oram; the music under William Waldrop’s direction is both challenging and unstoppably catchy. If at times Evita
puts polish before heart, that’s forgivable—it’s what its eponym did, after all, and people loved her regardless.