Evita Captivates the Crowd at the Adrienne Arsht Center
Anyone who's unaware might find it easy to dismiss Evita as yet another musical that's run its course -- or worse, a one-hit stage show with a terrific title tune but an otherwise well-worn narrative. But the terrific touring version that opened at the Arscht Tuesday night proved nothing could be further from the truth. Recently revived on Broadway for the first time in 30 years, this Evita for the new millennium is feisty, fast-paced and -- given a world filled with tyrants, political turmoil, and a superficial celebrity culture - more relevant as ever.
Contrary to the notion that its signature song "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" is the only takeaway tune, this new Evita emphasizes an exceptional musical score, all of which is essential to the narrative and the whirlwind of non-stop action that transpires onstage. A pop opera of epic proportions, the dialogue is expressed in song, and given the fact that nearly two decades transpire in a relatively short period of time - approximately two hours, 20 minutes including intermission - every passage becomes essential to the story line. The burden for ensuring continuity falls mainly to the two leads - Evita, of course, and the voice of her contentious confidant and audience interpreter, the ubiquitous Che. While the latter is given the task of narrating the musical's sequence of events and underscoring the conflicted heroine's motives and machinations, it's also left to Evita to win the sympathies of the audience much the same way she wins the adulation of Argentina's working masses.
Happily, Caroline Bowman in the title role is well up to the task. Her Evita is confident, compassionate and yet surprisingly vulnerable, a status that reflects the fact she was born out of wedlock and not of privileged lineage. It's not an easy task; despite the indelible Evita image that's been etched in film, in the history books and, of course, in this well-trod musical, Bowman must imbue her own interpretation and give the audience a living, breathing incarnation of a woman whose ambitions often conflicted with her image as a champion of the proletariat. In Bowman's hands, both sides of Evita's conflicted personality are effectively conveyed, from her sweeping entrance on the presidential balcony prior to addressing her adoring masses to the ailing first lady whose highly touted Rainbow Tour of Europe eventually falters and whose failed bid for the vice presidency is doomed due to illness and political instability.