Evita Brings Argentina to Segerstrom Center

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Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s EVITA has finally made it to Orange County with the first new American production since the musical debuted more than 30 years ago!  With seven Tony Awards to the Broadway classic in 1980 along with three 2012 Tony Award Nominations including Best Revival of a Musical, I thought for sure that I was walking in to something special.  However, mind you I am not too familiar with EVITA and I feel my reviews are best for the common theater goer that’s looking for a good time, not a critic that knows everything there is to know about the stage.

I am not even familiar with the movie therefore making my review a raw and virgin opinion of the experience.   This is quite possibly the only review like this for EVITA, and I hope it finds an audience.  Usually, I prefer experiencing new shows and events like this because I’m looking at it with unbiased, open eyes.  Sadly, I believe EVITA may have been slightly more enjoyable if I was more familiar with the music and maybe even the movie.

Comparing movies to musicals or the like is never a good idea.  Let’s face it, a musical is its own entity and has a completely different experience needing a much different approach to storytelling.  I was intently watching every scene, every moment, but as much as I tried to get into it I never felt an emotion toward the characters or Eva’s story.  Whoa, wait… I am not saying the show isn’t enjoyable though.

In case you were unaware, EVITA is an operetta with moments of a rock opera.  All words spoken are in recitative form meaning there is no break from the music.  When done right you are immersed in the show and encapsulated by every word.  Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera are a couple of the most popular musicals in this form.  EVITA, however, never gets to that level of powerfulness.

EVITA starts with a morbidly creepy requiem opening filled with dense fog, people dressed in black holding their memorial candles allowing for a small flicker of light to shine on their face.  We are morning Eva Peron’s death and then comes Che.  The music oddly changes quickly with an upbeat Spanish flair introducing Che as our Greek Chorus-like storyteller.  He roars in with his deep projected voice with an epic nature having the audience quickly understand why he is top billed over Eva.

Eva Peron is played by CAROLINE BOWMAN (Kinky Boots) and DESI OAKLEY (Annie, Wicked) at Sat. matinee and Sun. even performances.  Caroline portrays the “rags to riches” First Lady of Argentina whom used her sexiness to rise from the slums to presidential royalty helping the poor as she gains power.

Caroline is joined by JOSH YOUNG (Jesus Christ Superstar) as Che as the narrator if you will, and is there for practically the entire performance.  Josh plays the role of Che as it was originally written as an ‘everyman’ of the lower/working class as a voice of the people and not Che Guevara as seen before.   Hal Prince, the original producer, did not have the benefits of a more open world that we live in today.  Much less was known about Eva when the musical was originally created, which has now lead new producer Hal Luftig to make a few changes to better represent Eva and Argentina.

EVITA still encompasses all the memorable songs many are accustomed to including “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, “Buenos Aires”, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, together with the Oscar-winning hit from the film EVITA, “You Must Love Me”.

Whilst strong and wonderful songs, EVITA does not emulate those strong immensely powerful ballads you have seen in many other musicals.  “Buenos Aires” while well-known and fun, isn’t an epic top-of-your-lungs type number nor is even “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”.  Caroline has a very strong performance in every aspect, but the song does not allow for her to belt those words we are so familiar with.  I kept waiting for it to go up one notch, but I never got it.  This is perhaps my fault for not being familiar with the music.

Joshua however gets many chances as Che to get loud and powerful.  In fact it is “And the Money Kept Rollin In” sung by Joshua that really got me going.  His range is so phenomenal from super low deeps to extremely high pitches that had the audience finally erupt in a roar.  Not to mention Eva’s eventual husband Juan Peron played by SEAN MACLAUGHLIN Woman in White) who is also providing of some great vocal talent.

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The story of Eva’s life could allow for a lot more emotion than I felt the musical puts forth.  Eva must overcome her history being practically a slut to gain the trust and love of the people, and while it is mentioned, you never really see Eva going through much of a challenge.  I never ended up really feeling for Eva.  I missed the connection piece to her somewhere.

In what is a very sad story that leaves you with only a short reprise and no big company spectacular, there was truly a chance to make an incredibly emotional experience and yet I never felt the sorrow.  My apologies as I must use this; I never felt a reason to cry for Eva.  Okay, the reasons were there, but not told in a way to truly feel for her.  The lack of any hardships and troubles made me feel that everything was moving along just fine until the end.

Above all else, the music is still good.  They are sung well and still beautiful, but was still lacking those big moments.  Producer Luftig wanted a more Argentinian sound in this revival bringing more tango in the music and choreography. Even the choreography seemed a bit lackluster and a little out of sync, which is odd as it was choreographed by Tony Award-winner Rob Ashford.

The crew however has done a great job with staging, sound and lighting. The set is definitely ‘grandesque’, but it really comes down to only two main sets.  Being a fan of many set changes and creative staging, it was missed.  The show was beautiful throughout though and there was definitely some creativity with showing actual footage from Eva’s appearances and funeral.

Even though I have shared some dislikes, it is still an enjoyable show.  This was clearly not something that is my style and I don’t see many people leaving the theater in ‘awe’, however I see the value in this show.  The performances were still solid and the music still beautiful.  I unfortunately did not take much home from it.  Fans of the music as well as even the movie should surly love this production and would a must-see for them.  If you’re a fan of the high energy, flashy and loud stage spectaculars this may not be the show for you, but those that just love the theater and great performances, there is no reason to miss.

EVITA is now playing at Segerstrom Center for the Arts – Segerstrom Hall

December 10 – 22, 2013
Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.

The 2 p.m. performance on Saturday, December 21 will include audio description, open captioning and sign-language interpretation.

Tickets start at $25

For more information visit scfta.org