THEATER REVIEW: “Evita”

Let’s face it, Eva Peron is a great subject for theater: the poor little girl from Nowhere, Argentina who slept her way to the top, not just marrying strongman president Juan Peron but becoming an icon – nay, a near saint – in her own right along the way.

Lyricist Tim Rice had the idea that became a rock opera concept album in 1976 and an actual rock opera a few years later. With Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music, “Evita” took Broadway by storm in 1979, winning seven Tony Awards.

“Evita’s” latest incarnation is now touring and playing through Sunday at San Diego Civic Theatre. Michael Grandage directs.

This version reverts to the original concept in using an “everyman” figure named Che (Josh Young) as narrator/Greek chorus. (Hal Prince used the Argentinian Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara.)

Young (remembered for his Tony-nominated portrayal of Judas Iscariot in Des McAnuff’s 2012 mounting of “Jesus Christ Superstar”) is the best thing about this show, his solid baritone voice and excellent diction propelling the plot.

I don’t mean to slight the excellence of Sean McLaughlin, whose soaring tenor and fine portrayal of mid-20th century dictator Juan Peron are also impressive.

Caroline Bowman plays Eva with all the seductive cunning we assume she must have had, working her way up from well-known singer Magaldi (the fine Christopher Johnstone) to the man who in 1946 became Argentina’s president and established a military dictatorship known for its repression and torture of opposition forces.

But Peron was smart enough to know that he needed to show a caring side to the people if he wanted to succeed. This is where Eva came in: She had an uncanny ability to spent profligately while still convincing the poor that she was not only on their side but one of them.

“Evita” is a lot better visually than it is musically, through no fault of the cast. It has one blockbuster song: “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina,” and two other good ones (the upbeat “Buenos Aires” and the poignant “Another Suitcase In Another Hall").

The three major characters are all fine singer/actors; so are the others. The 16-member orchestra is fine too, though as usual in this house, it overpowers the singers from time to time. But mostly, the music is loud, discordant and not particularly interesting to listen to.

The rock opera structure does not help. There is no spoken dialogue, and though this cast was obviously working hard at putting the words across, my guest and I missed many of them.

But visually, “Evita” has Rob Ashford’s Tony-nominated and nearly omnipresent choreography, varying from seductive to muscular and performed with great panache by the ensemble. Add to that a fine set by Christopher Oram, excellent lighting by Neil Austin and terrifically integrated projections of the time designed by Zachary Borovay, and you have a handsome production.

The first act is better, moving along at a nice clip. The second act slows down, perhaps in proportion as Eva gets weaker (she died in 1952 of uterine cancer), but aside from the choreography it seems to drag a bit dramatically.

The details

“Evita” plays through Nov. 17 at San Diego Civic Theatre, Third and B streets, downtown.

Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm.

Tickets: HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.