Evita, the musical created 30 years ago by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, is now playing at the Oriental Theatre in the Loop.
It is the story of Eva Peron and the cult of personality that was born around her during her meteoric rise from poor girl to the equivalent of queen in poverty-stricken Argentina during the early to mid 20th Century.
Before we meet Eva, we meet the cult of personality that surrounded her at the time of her early death.
The star of this production is the stagecraft and choreography. We first see the ensemble coming to life in adoration for Evita and melding into a photo montage of her funeral. This is powerful staging that sets a tone and high bar for the entire production to follow.
We then meet Eva herself (played by Caroline Bowman) when she is just 15 and having an affair with a Tango singer, Magaldi (played by Christopher Johnstone).
Here as throughout the play, tango is used as a metaphor for power struggle, in this case between Eva and Magaldi, with Eva eventually winning and getting him to take her from her small town to Buenos Aires.
From there it’s next a story of her sleeping her way to the top. Model, actress, and courtesan to the powerful—she is on track for more power and then more power again.
When Eva meets Juan Peron (played by Sean MacLaughlin) she sings of how she will be good for his political career and not of love per se.
They are perhaps the best incarnation of the term “power couple” ever to strut the earth, or at least Argentine lands.
When Peron seizes power Eva is on the one hand the epitome of wealth and privilege, but through her charity work takes on the stance of the original “people’s princess”. She is loved and she is sought out for redemption as others might seek the Pope.
Che Guevera (played by Josh Young, and clearly an audience favorite) is the foil who looks on and asks again and again if anyone’s life has changed other than Evita’s.
Power’s ability to corrupt absolutely is the story line, but the price of admission is perhaps best covered by the spectacular stagecraft and choreography at every turn.
After the opening scene of film of her funeral with ensemble members become part of the grieving crowd, we see sizzling tango throughout. First we see the tango in the tango bar where Eva is insisting the singer take her to Buenos Aires. Two men doing tango moves later depict a power struggle between different military factions. The ideological struggle between the Peronistas and revolutionaries embodied by Che also has its tango moment. We see other dancing as well, with white handkerchief carrying crowds rhythmically becoming a dancing throng bending to Evita’s wishes.
Yes, you will be waiting to hear “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, the most popular song from this production, but there’s more meat than fluff to this weighty historic story, and that Webber and Rice figured out how to make it an engaging musical is still remarkable.
24 West Randolph, Chicago
September 18 – October 6, 2013
Wednesdays 2 PM and 7:30
Saturdays 2 PM and 7:30
Sundays 2 PM and special performance September 22 at 7:30 PM
Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago Box Offices (24 West Randolph, 151 W. Randolph, 18 W. Monroe and 175 East Chestnut, the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Kiosk at Water Tower Place (845 N. Michigan), and the Broadway Ticket Line at 800 775 – 2000, all Ticketmaster locations and online at the Broadway in Chicago website.