News Column

Dance tells the story in revival of 'Evita'

October 9, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 09--Think of "Evita" and one image comes to mind: an elegant woman in a white ball gown, standing on a balcony with upraised arms. "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," she sings -- but why? Argentina is not crying for her; it is cheering for her, blissed out on a cult of personality.

That scene, one of the icons of modern musical theater, is as striking as ever in the production of "Evita" that opened the Fox Theater's 2013-14 Broadway season on Tuesday night. It's presented by Dance St. Louis.

But this seductive revival, directed by Michael Grandage and choreographed by Rob Ashford, makes another white-dress scene its centerpiece: the sensual "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You."

It's probably the sexiest song that composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice ever wrote. The Latin rhythms seem to glide right through Eva Duarte (Caroline Bowman), a popular radio star in a sleek white sheath, and Juan Peron (Sean MacLaughlin), a charismatic colonel in his dress uniform.

They've never met before. But already they look like Woman and Man, polished to archetypical glamour, as Ashford's tango-inflected dance packs unmistakable intention into each deliberate gesture.

Near them other couples -- in tuxedos and black frocks -- echo their steps. The arms reach up, the legs extend to dizzying heights in slow, controlled gestures. Each dancer seems to be beg his or her partner to make it last a little longer. It's never vulgar, always elegant. But you can't forget what this dance, and maybe this whole show, is about.

That's why this production is so strong -- and so different. Through that dance, we understand that Juan and Eva -- who will marry, rise to ruthless power and nearly destroy their country -- are crazy about each other. United in passion as well as ambition, they're a South American version of the Macbeths. And that tragedy always works best when the Thane and his Lady burn with mutual desire.

There is a third central character, Che (Josh Young), the cynical voice of reality. Young -- who gave a terrific performance last summer at the Muny as Lt. Cable in "South Pacific -- reminds us of the thin, dangerous line between politics and show business. His opening song is "Oh, What a Circus." Unshaven, muscular and blessed with the clear, heroic voice, Young reminds us that this is not going to end well. (In fact, Eva Peron died of cancer in 1952, only six years after she became First Lady of Argentina. She was 33.) But sometimes he can't resist cheering, joining the people who adored her.

Not all the people did. The workers embrace Evita Peron, considering her one of their own. They call her "Santa Evita" and bring her babies to bless. But the upper crust reviles her as a parvenu who slept her way to the top.

Bowman delivers a character whose great strength is that she welcomes their disdain. With her scarlet mouth and gleaming eyes, she resembles a young Joan Crawford, all appetite and avarice. Bowman sings beautifully but, as befits this production, she etches her character in dance -- sinuous torso, limber ankles, hands outstretched to grasp.

MacLaughlin, lean as a knife, creates a sharp character as well, achieving real poignancy in the play's last scenes. He knows what he is losing -- everything.

There's more good work from Krystina Alabado as Juan Peron's previous mistress and from Christopher Johnstone, who turns a hokey tango into a frankly enjoyable song. The whole dance ensemble is shrewd and stylish, too.

"Evita"

When--Through Oct. 20. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. Sundays. 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13; 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17.

Where--Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Boulevard

How much--$25 to $85

More info--314-534-1111; metrotix.com

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(c)2013 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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