It takes guts for an actor to leave a new hit Broadway show, especially one that just won six Tony Awards including one for Best Musical.
But that's what Caroline Bowman did, leaving her ensemble role in the 2013 Cyndi Lauper musical "Kinky Boots" to take on the leading lady role of Eva Peron in composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's and librettist Tim Rice's award-winning 1978 stage musical "Evita." The new 25-city national tour is based upon British director Michael Grandage's 2006 London and 2012 Broadway revivals, and it comes to Chicago for a 24-performance run at the Oriental Theatre starting Wednesday.
Bowman spoke with the Daily Herald earlier this month from Providence, R.I., when she was in the midst of "Evita" technical rehearsals before the tour officially launched last Sunday.
"'Evita' is a dream role of mine," Bowman said. "I couldn't pass it up,"
Yet, Bowman admits it was tough to leave the cast and crew of "Kinky Boots," which she says became like a family, especially when they were making numerous changes to the show during its 2012 Chicago tryout at the Bank of America Theatre.
"('Kinky Boots' director/choreographer Jerry Mitchell) was extremely loving and cared so much about each and every one of us," Bowman said. "So when I told him I was leaving, he was so happy for me and sad to see me go, but he totally understood."
Bowman, a native of Fulton, Md., is still taking in the enormity of performing "Evita," which is based upon the controversial rags- to-riches life of the ambitious late wife of 20th century Argentine dictator Juan Peron. The role of Eva Peron is notorious for its vocal and stamina challenges, and the tour continues with the tradition of having an Eva alternate (Desi Oakley) to ease the workload by likely taking on two matinees of the weekly eight performances.
"It's vocally taxing, it's physically taxing and quite the emotional ride," Bowman said. "This past Monday on my day off, I saw 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' and I was so emotionally drained after the movie I became even more tired. So I decided that I will not be seeing sad movies on my day off from now on."
The multi-Eva setup has caused tensions in other "Evita" companies (Patti LuPone, the original Broadway Eva Peron, touched upon some backstage machinations in her 2010 memoir). But Bowman says she and Oakley were friends before being cast.
"I've been an understudy and I know what it is to be an understudy," Bowman said, citing one of her previous Broadway experiences as a standby for the role of Elphaba in "Wicked."
Although this "Evita" tour doesn't boast a marquee name (Latin pop star Ricky Martin starred as Che on Broadway), Bowman says the show itself will be a major attraction.
"It's a beautiful production," Bowman said. "I got to sit in the audience during music rehearsals and the visuals are just stunning."
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