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'Evita' presents powerhouse voices featuring mesmerizing leading lady

Caroline Bowman as Eva and cast in the National Tour of "Evita"
Caroline Bowman as Eva and cast in the National Tour of "Evita"
Richard Termine

Evita

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Yesterday, Feb. 4, marked the first day of the Marcus Center's 5-day run of "Evita." This Tony Award-winning musical tells the true story of Eva Perón, a woman who went from the slums of Argentina to the presidential mansion with a string of admirers and conspirators on all sides. If somehow neither the sociopolitical aspects nor the fact that this is based on a true story appeals to you, this production is worth seeing to witness the incredible performers alone.

"Evita" is an operetta much like "Les Miserables" and "The Phantom of the Opera" infused with hints of rock music and a level of historical accuracy that finds its way into both the plot and lyrics. In a recent interview with ensemble member/Juan Perón understudy Ryan Bailer, he said,

Almost every scene is based on a historical event. So instead of someone taking history and saying we're going to wrap a fun story around it, they took history and put it to music, and so much of the lyrics are based on things that actually happened.

Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice collaborated to create the music that tells Eva Perón's tale, including such songs as "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and "High Flying, Adored." This particular cast features such talented performers and voices one is rarely fortunate enough find on the same stage. Everyone from the leads to the ensemble was incredible, creating energetic dance or somber mourning scenes. The three leads portraying Eva, Juan, and Ché most certainly deserve their due, but so do the ensemble and smaller roles in this production. Krystina Alabado is a remarkable soprano who gives a touching rendition of "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" and similarly Christopher Johnstone puts a lot of power behind "On This Night of a Thousand Stars." Another powerful force in the production is Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Perón. His commanding presence and strong, deep voice set a standard for the actress playing Eva, who must become even more commanding and engaging as the preferred Perón. Tony-nominated actor Josh Young plays the cynical narrator, Ché, who represents the common man and constantly puts Eva's character into question. Young shows incredible versatility and vocal range as he transforms from an classically trained opera singer to a rock star from one song to the next. This demanding role is nearly if not just as important as that of Eva, and fortunately both were cast perfectly in this production.

Caroline Bowman is an exceptional Eva Perón who somehow manages to not only match, but exceed the incredible talents sharing the stage. From the moment Bowman appears on stage, the audience cannot keep their eyes off her. She transforms from a vivacious dreamer to a brutally ambitious leader over the course of the production, using her voice, body language, and tone to show the many sides of Eva Perón. These different sides of Eva are part of what creates the mystery and controversy of her character and are essential in keeping this question alive. Much like Young as Ché, it's hard to imagine anyone else playing Eva Perón, as Bowman made two and a half hours fly by as she entertained and amazed the audience with her stamina, vocal range, and versatility.

With an incredible cast and the talented combined work of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, it's difficult to find a flaw in a production like this. While live orchestra accompaniment is always a treat in musical theater, at times the drums overpowered even the strongest, most projected voices such as Young. Also, the audience is meant to draw their own conclusions on whether Eva was the saint or sinner the Argentine people believed her to be, though Bowman's overall performance and the tone of the production definitely leans in one direction over the other. However, these are both minor flaws that one soon forgets if they are noticed at all.

Whether or not the historical or political aspects of "Evita" appeal to you, this production is a must-see. It features the finest cast of performers with the most outstanding voices the Marcus Center has yet to bring to the stage this season. "Evita" runs at the Marcus Center now through Sunday, Feb. 9 and tickets are available online or by calling 414-273-7206. For more information, please visit http://www.evitaonbroadway.com/tour.html.