Most of those productions, though, have taken that 1978 version as their starting point. This tour is based on 2006 London and subsequent Broadway revivals that threw all that out and went back to, among other things, the original two-LP set for inspiration.
[Note to younger readers: the LP is a primitive sound reproduction device invented by the ancient Mayans.]
The most obvious change is in the character of Che, who is no longer the revolutionary Che Guevara but rather the Argentinian everyman Lloyd Webber and Rice originally created ("che," in Argentinian slang, translates as "guy" or "pal"). Fortunately they didn’t go all the way and restore the subplot in which Che is a chemist trying to sell his new insecticide. Some of the changes made for the stage were real improvements.
The other obvious change is that this "Evita" is a dancer's show. Original choreographer Rob Ashford and tour choreographer Chris Bailey have the small ensemble cast in almost constant movement, using steps heavily influenced by tango and other Latin dance styles. This not only solves the problem posed by the static nature of some scenes, it also make the transitions between them that much more fluid. Combine that with Neil Austin’s sharp lighting design and Christopher Oram’s quickly shifting sets, and you have an “Evita” that moves along briskly (it comes in at around two-and-one-half hours, including intermission) without ever feeling rushed.
The arrangements have changed as well. The new orchestrations by Lloyd Webber and David Cullen use Latin percussion more than the rock-flavored original did and the accordion—an instrument strongly associated with the sound of the Argentinian tango—is very much in evidence.
This is, in short, a new and improved "Evita" with a strong cast headed by Caroline Bowman in the title role (alternating with Desi Oakley in some performances), Josh Young as Che, Sean MacLaughlin as Peron, and Christopher Johnstone as Magaldi.
On opening night, Ms. Bowman fell just a trifle short of the necessary vocal power in spots (mostly the ones that drove her down to the bottom of her range) but overall she came across as a dynamic and forceful Eva Peron—rather like the young Barbara Stanwyck but with great dance moves. Her “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” was powerfully focused and her portrayal of the character’s physical decline towards the end felt tragically real; as good a piece of physical acting as I’ve seen in some time.
Mr. Young’s Che was acted beautifully acted and sung. The range of the part is absurdly wide but Mr. Young was only rarely forced up into his falsetto. His voice sounded uniformly strong throughout and made the character instantly likeable—very important in a role that is a combination Greek chorus and narrator.
Mr. MacLaughlin’s Peron was also immensely impressive. There was a genuine warmth to the character that I haven’t always seen, which made his relationship with Evita that much more believable and his anguish at her final collapse that much more real. Mr. Johnstone’s Magaldi was also nicely nuanced.
In fact, there seems to be more depth of character throughout this “Evita” than I recall in earlier versions of this show. Some of that can be attributed to the fine work by the cast, but I expect much of the credit also goes to Michael Grandage and Seth Sklar-Heyn (the original and tour directors, respectively).
Bottom line, this "Evita" looks and sounds like a million dollars. The brilliantly theatrical staging of the opening “Requiem”—which combines Lloyd Webber’s daringly bitonal and polyrhythmic music with newsreel footage of Eva Peron’s funeral—is almost worth the price of admission itself. And it’s only one of several coups de theatre in this canny re-thinking of the show. I would have liked to see a somewhat larger ensemble than the one they’re using for this tour—numbers like “A New Argentina” really do call for lots of bodies on stage—but that’s a minor complaint.
If you've never seen "Evita" before—or even if you have and think there's nothing new this show has to offer—you owe it to yourself to check this production out. It's at the Fox in Grand Center through October 20th. For more information: fabulousfox.com.