News Column

Different 'Evita' comes to Benedum

July 3, 2014

By Alice T. Carter, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

July 03--One of the factors that keep live-theater performances fresh is that the productions are constantly changing.

New cast members' understanding of their characters, a director's individual concept and approach or even who's attending can make a big difference in how audience members feel about characters or the play's outcome.

It's particularly true of the national touring production of "Evita" that Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera is presenting July 8 to 13 at the Benedum Center as part of its 67th season.

Principal actors Caroline Bowman, who plays Eva Peron, and Josh Young, who plays the narrator, Che, say that how they play their characters and how audience members react to them may vary widely from one performance to the next.

"The show is always different, depending on where we are in our emotional state that day," Bowman says.

Directed by Michael Grandage and choreographed by Point Park University grad Rob Ashford, this is the touring production of the 2012 Broadway revival, the first new Broadway production of "Evita" since it debuted there in 1979.

This production has new orchestrations by Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Cullen.

But Tim Rice's lyrics, Webber's music -- "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," "Another Suitcase in Another Hall," "High Flying, Adored" -- and the story are largely unchanged.

Set between 1934 and 1952 in Argentina, it follows Eva Duarte Peron's relentless ambition, from her beginnings as a small-town radio performer through her rise as the wife of President Juan Peron and her transformation into secular sainthood as the country's manipulative, powerful and beloved first lady that continued after her death.

Even today, historians, political junkies, the people of Argentina and musical-theater fans remain divided on whether she was a nurturing saint who used her influence to better the life of common people or a grasping, tyrannical woman of easy virtue who squandered the country's money on designer dresses and overlooked the government's dictatorial excesses.

"Millions loved her, and millions hated her," Bowman says.

That longstanding ambivalence gives Bowman and Young leeway to approach "Evita" differently and experiment with variations on their characters and intentions during performances.

"Carolyn is a great actress. Sometimes, when she's singing 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina,' I'm not sure ... is Eva (sincere) or just an actress. I don't know," Young says. "Because of the nature of the roles, we have permission to do whatever we want if it supports the story. There are a lot of improvisational changes depending on what happened in my day or with Eva."

Typically, actors hired to perform national touring roles are expected to follow those created for the Broadway production. But Young says he was given latitude in creating his own version of Che, not reproducing the performance that Ricky Martin did on Broadway.

Young and Bowman did extensive research on Argentina and the people and period of "Evita."

"There is no Ricky Martin in this Che. I wanted to make up a backstory and see what professions would be working class or the type of people looking for Evita to succeed to enable me to see Evita through their eyes. ... My guy is a tannery worker ... a man who would need Eva to succeed," Young says.

"My goal is to get people to love her. You have to create a character that's the same as Webber and Rice saw her but be able to relate to her not as a fascist," Bowman says. Whether you approve of Evita's motives or actions, Bowman believes you can still admire her ability to fulfill her ambitions.

"She got what she wanted. She seduced the nation. Whether her actions were honorable -- there are things in her life I wouldn't have approached the same way -- you have to admire her strength, determination and ambition," Bowman says. "I want people to feel for her as I have, to know the life she lived and pick and choose what works for her."

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.


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