On stage at the Fox: 'Evita' needs a stronger connection

For the News-DemocratOctober 10, 2013 

For all the precision and skill that goes into the national tour of the stylish "Evita," the one thing lacking is warmth.

We must care more about Eva Peron -- maybe not like the people of Argentina did -- but we must feel something, instead of merely observing a historical diorama.

As gorgeous as the outside trappings were -- costumes, set, luxe lighting -- the connection between the title character and the audience wasn't as strong as it could have been on opening night at the Fox. The Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice revival runs through Oct. 20.

With her movie-star coiffures and glamorous wardrobe, Caroline Bowman looked the part, but the electric star quality needed for such an iconic figure wasn't as obvious as I had hoped.

From Eva's poor beginnings, promiscuous rise to prominent actress, and then paramour of ambitious politician Juan Peron, we need to care about her when she transforms into an effective First Lady, becoming a better person because of her work with the struggling commoners. Then she gets sick and dies, which is ironic and tragic, and we should be moved by the loss.

Maybe it was the difficulty to hear her at times, and she must carry the whole show in clear voice, as that is the case with rock operas. If you can't connect because of the character's calculating nature, that's a big problem, too.

Bowman was at her best with the signature song "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," a big '"wow" moment as she was a stunning vision in white, and the heartbreaking "You Must Love Me."

Fortunately, dynamic Josh Young was there to draw us in as the narrator Che. He was a powerful force, overshadowing everyone else opening night. His clear tone, finesse of his velvety baritone and impressive range, in addition to his ability to connect every word with us made him easily the standout.

A 2012 Tony nominee for his Broadway debut in "Jesus Christ Superstar," Young takes command of a stage like few can, and he is definitely going places. He is a serious contender that we will see blossom before our eyes, like Mandy Patinkin and Brian Stokes Mitchell. From "Oh What a Circus" to "And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)," he had us from entrance to the show's final line.

Lithe Sean McLaughlin showcased a rich, robust voice as Juan Peron, but he lacked chemistry with Bowman to create a compelling superpower couple.

Both Christopher Johnstone as Magaldi ("On This Night of a Thousand Stars") and Krystina Alabado as Peron's mistress ("Another Suitcase in Another Hall") delivered strong vocals in their brief moments to shine. The ensemble, larger than most on tours, was crisp and their voices in fine form, notably excelling at the Latin-influenced dance numbers.

The musical, expertly staged by director Michael Grandage, had a captivating atmosphere about it. It benefits from Rob Ashford's stylish, hyper-exaggerated choreography, which emphasized sultry tango moves. It all can be admired from afar but didn't give us enough reasons to invest emotionally. The technical skills showcased in the vocals, however, are striking and dramatic.

The history lesson revealed through an all-sung rock opera can get muddled, so if you don't refresh yourself on the Perons or you are not familiar enough with Argentinian politics of the '40s before going, you might be a tad lost.

Eva Peron was as beloved as Princess Diana of Wales and First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, but here I needed a reason to understand the adoration, and it was elusive. It was like admiring pretty shiny baubles in a store window.

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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