If you know “Evita” only from the flawed, glossy film version, there is a chance to see a 2012 Broadway mounting of the live Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice megahit musical at the Paramount Theatre through Sunday.
But don’t confuse this “Evita,” with the long-running original version staged in epic and influential fashion by Harold Prince in 1978.
British director Michael Grandage’s rethought production is also visually impressive, as it chronicles the rise of Eva “Evita” Perón (played with ferocity by Caroline Bowman),
the glamorous and charismatic wife of Argentine dictator Juan Perón (a sleek Sean MacLaughlin). Destined for an early death (at 33, in 1952), she became an enshrined symbol in Argentina for decades after.
Thanks to the global success of “Evita,” first as a concept album and then as a pop-opera musical, she’s also a theatrical icon — in the image of the lovely blonde in a white tulle ballgown, arms raised aloft as if embracing the ardor of all Argentina. Or, “a cross between a fantasy of the bedroom and a saint,” as Rice’s lyrics describe her.
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The differences between Grandage’s “Evita” and the initial, widely copied Prince production are several.
Here the tale of Eva’s rise from low-rent, provincial obscurity to superstar majesty, smoothly unfolds like an extended tango, through the profusion of dance choreography by Rob Ashford.
Lloyd Webber’s score (probably his best, and most melodically varied) has more Latin spice, kick and swoon in the recharged orchestrations by himself and David Cullen and in the dynamic conducting of William Waldrop (though at full-blast the pit band can overwhelm the singers).
The portrait of Evita in Rice’s semi-clunky libretto (and in Bowman’s more strident moments) remains superficial, to say the least. She’s a conniving trollop, a fabulous fake, who sleeps her way to the top, then uses her looks and media skills to help fleece the adoring peasantry — achieving not just celebrity, but a sanctified glow.
The visual sharpness, stabs of sarcastic humor and political punch of Prince’s version are toned down or (in the more shadowy scenic design) softened here.
And the irreverent, critical narrator of Eva’s rise and end has shifted. Performed in stirring voice by Josh Young, he’s still called Che. But unlike Mandy Patinkin’s 1970s Broadway portrayal, he no longer has the look or political fire of revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara — another political “superstar,” who as a native of Argentina came of age during the corrupt, quasi-fascist Perón regime.
Apparently, it was Prince’s idea, not Rice and Lloyd Webber’s, for the musical’s Che to be Guevara. But as blunt as it was, it gave “Evita” an extra dynamic, the spectacle of two iconic Argentines — both glorified, martyred, mythologized — duking it out dialectically.
Without that, “Evita” seems even more narratively simplistic. Still it is effective musical theater — in such showpieces as the sizzling ”Buenos Aires,” the lovely ballad “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” (beautifully sung by Krystina Alabado); and Eva’s theme song, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” sung tenderly, movingly by Bowman.
There are certainly more dimensional, revealing accounts of Eva Perón available. But there’s only one major musical about her. And when executed with as much polish and talent as this “Evita” revival, it’s still entertaining.
Misha Berson: email@example.com