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Theater Review: 'Evita' At The Pantages

Katie Buenneke |
October 27, 2013 | 5:38 p.m. PDT

Theater Editor

Caroline Bowman shines as best she can in "Evita." Photo by Richard Termine.
Caroline Bowman shines as best she can in "Evita." Photo by Richard Termine.
The national tour of “Evita,” now playing at the Pantages in Hollywood, is about as good as “Evita” gets.

“Evita” isn’t a very good show. In fact, it’s an immensely problematic show. It follows Eva Peron (Caroline Bowman), as she rose to power in the mid-twentieth century. Her story is narrated by the mysterious Che (Josh Young), who looks on in disdain as she schemes her way to success, eventually marrying Juan Peron (Sean MacLaughlin), a general who would later be elected as Argentina’s leader.

READ MORE: Review Roundup: 'One Man, Two Guvnors,' 'Nice Work If You Can Get It,' 'Evita,' And 'Harvey'

The score, by Andrew Lloyd Webber, consists of about five tunes that are used over and over (and over) again, and is often horribly dissonant for no particular reason. Tim Rice’s lyrics verge on the nonsensical with alarming regularity (“Lauren Bacall” is not a verb. Really. Also, why is “real eiderdown and silence” a lyric?), and the book (also by Rice) raises more questions than it answers, particularly in the second act. The show’s deep-seeded misogyny is also irksome.

READ MORE: Theater Review: 'The Phantom Of The Opera' At The Pantages

That being said, director Michael Grandage (“Red”) and his massively talented cast have almost salvaged the show. Bowman is incredible as the title character, easily belting out the unnecessarily-difficult score, and reconciling the wildly different elements of Evita’s personality into a somewhat-likable human. She’s offset by Josh Young (who was the best part of last season’s “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Broadway), who is vocally channeling Mandy Patinkin, who played the role in the original Broadway production. Unfortunately, despite Young’s best efforts, the reason for his character’s existence is never made clear, as Che awkwardly wobbles between being a part of the action and sarcastically remarking on it, which probably stems from a lack of clarity about who Che is. He’s no longer Che Guevara, as Hal Prince envisioned the character, but it’s never made clear who this mysterious man is.

READ MORE: Theater Review: 'Jesus Christ Superstar' On Broadway

As a whole, this is a very pretty production. Rob Ashford’s choreography energetically keeps the plot moving forward, and is well-executed by the large, capable ensemble. Christopher Oram’s sets and costumes are lavish and beautiful, and are beautifully lit by Neil Austin.

All these great elements (cast, choreography, design) are almost enough to distract the audience from just how bad “Evita” is as a show. Under Grandage’s direction, the first act moves along at a good clip, and is thoroughly entertaining. After intermission, though, the show becomes as dull and lifeless as cancer-stricken Eva (though they never actually say it’s cancer, she just collapses at one point, and then dies a few scenes later). Perhaps this is a moment of artistic genius for Grandage, making a statement about how illness infiltrated every aspect of the heroine’s life, but more than anything, it highlights the show’s shoddy writing. Such statements have greater effect when they don’t come from moments of unfathomable ennui.

READ MORE: Theater Review: 'Red' At The Mark Taper Forum

The first act of “Evita” really is something to behold, but unfortunately, in the end, even the best efforts of the cast and creative team cannot save the musical from its own shortcomings.

“Evita” is playing at the Pantages Theatre (6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood) through November 10. Tickets are $32-$165. For more information, visit HollywoodPantages.com.

Read more theater coverage here.

Reach Theater Editor Katie here or follow her on Twitter here.



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