'Evita' star gives new voice to Che

For the News-DemocratOctober 8, 2013 

When charismatic Tony nominee Josh Young takes the stage in "Evita," do not expect Cuban activist revolutionary Che Guevera to show up.

In the recent Broadway revival, which is based on the 2006 London West End production, the narrator role was re-interpreted as an Argentinian working class guy. That's the distinct characterization Young developed when he played the role at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in 2010, and now again in the national tour.

"He's from the working class in Argentina, and Eva was a champion of the working class, so it makes for a more clear story," he said in a phone interview from Chicago, the tour's second stop before St. Louis. "He's the biggest change. It's a completely different perspective, and it makes perfect sense. He's a man with a family to support. Eva wanted to make life better for them, and so you see the effect on him."

In the original, the narrator didn't have a name, and it was only when Hal Prince came on board that it became Che Guevera. "What 'Che' means in Spanish, it's an exclamation for 'Hey, buddy' or 'Hey, friend,' and so you get the storytelling a different way. We tell the story really well."

"Evita" is at the Fox Theatre through Oct. 20. It charts the rise and fall of Eva Peron, the glamorous and young First Lady of Argentina, from her poor beginnings to beloved icon. Initially a concept album, the rock-opera musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, after its Broadway bow in 1979.

This new view, as seen in last year's Tony-nominated revival, is touring 25 cities for a year. Young is joined by Caroline Bowman ("Kinky Boots") as Eva Peron, Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Peron, Christopher Johnstone as Magaldi and Krystina Alabado as the Mistress. Desi Oakley will play the alternate Eva.

"This cast is vocally the best all-around singers I've worked with -- they are ridiculously talented," he said. "I really do love this cast, there is no drama. We have a good time together."

The choreography by Rob Ashford also sets apart this production, which Young described as incredible. His favorite song to perform in the show is "The Money Keeps Rolling In" -- a constant whirl of dancers. He is center in this joyful number. "The show is full of vitality, full of life."

This is the second Webber-Rice musical for Young. He was Tony-nominated in his Broadway debut as Judas Iscariot in the 2012 revival of "Jesus Christ Superstar." He won the Theatre World Award for Best Broadway Debut Performance.

"They're both brilliant. What sets them apart is their hummability. You always sing their songs after a show, they are so memorable. You can listen to them over and over again. You walk out of their shows humming songs," he said.

Not that all their material is easy to sing, but Young welcomes the challenge.

"I don't think Andrew Lloyd Webber considers the limits of the human voice when he writes a song. His music is a great challenge and very rewarding. I feel so comfortable singing their songs," he said.

Young was able to meet the legendary duo when he was performing "Jesus Christ Superstar" first at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada. "That got the ball rolling. It transferred to the La Jolla Playhouse, and then Broadway. They were very complimentary and supportive of me, and they came out to see the Broadway opening," he said.

About that inaugural Tony experience: "It was very surreal." Michael McGrath, for "Nice Work If You Can Get It," won Best Featured Actor in a Musical, but Young earned rave reviews for performing the show's title song with castmates.

While he is eager to return to Broadway someday, he is pleased to be on this tour, the first since he was part of the "Les Miserables" ensemble during their 'farewell' tour a decade ago. Despite the vocal demands and the need to take care of one's health on the road, he couldn't imagine a better life.

"I am loving it, " he said, noting that he has workshopped a couple Broadway musicals and hopes that one finds a theater upon his return from the road.

A graduate of Syracuse University, with a bachelor of fine arts in musical theater, he has been a working actor since obtaining his Actors Equity card in 2003.

Between Judas and Che, Young added another classic role to his repertoire -- he appeared as Lt. Joseph Cable in the Muny's acclaimed production of "South Pacific" this summer. He said he is excited to return to St. Louis.

"We had such a great cast. I really enjoyed my time there."

Young grew up in Wallingford, Pa., near Philadelphia, and at the age of 11, got involved in the Young People's Theater Workshop, moving on to their community theater group and, of course, high school musicals.

"I never stopped. My parents were supportive because it helped me keep out of trouble. I was always getting into trouble as a kid, but once I started being in plays, that was it. I stayed out of trouble," he said.

Once he had an inkling he could perform professionally, then he said he never wanted to do anything else.

After the Fox performances, he will sign his two CD albums in the lobby. For more information about his CDs and career, visit his website, www.josh-young.com.

What: "Evita"

When: through Oct. 20. Show times are 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Satrdays; 1 p.m. Sundays. There will be a 6:30 p.m. performance on Oct. 13 and a 1p.m. matinee on Oct. 17.

Where: The Fox Theatre, 527 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis

Tickets: Online at MetroTix.com, by calling 314-534-1111 or in person at the Fox Theatre Box Office. Ticket prices start at $25.

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