REVIEW: Music of ‘Evita’ never leaves you

Mar. 12, 2014 @ 12:00 PM

The national tour of “Evita” brings a musical masterpiece to the masses, with a performance unlike anything else at the Durham Performing Arts Center this season. It is on stage at DPAC through Sunday.

Caroline Bowman is up to the task of portraying a woman like Eva Peron and a role that was previously defined by two stars, Patti LuPone on Broadway and Madonna on film. Bowman’s rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” passes the goose bumps test, in that feeling her sing takes you beyond your red cushioned seat in the performing arts center. Her voice is an example of why some performances are best experienced live.
“Evita” brings something new and different to today’s tours of Broadway musicals. Taken with the rest of the DPAC season, it’s a nice complement to other shows that are more whiz-bang. “Evita” begins and ends with Eva’s death, but in between the musical takes you on a lively, ascending musical journey.
On the way home, you’re singing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” surely, but you’re also thinking about the Perons and history and the impact of a celebrity pedestal. Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Peron is a great match with Bowman. Eva Peron was a celebrity politician who made it there through her early performance career, yes, but also through marriage. There are certainly power marriages today, but women can also reach a higher level on their own accord.
“Evita” isn’t fawning of the Perons, instead showing the perspective of the peasants through the character of Che, played well by Josh Young. In the tour, Che acts as Greek chorus and narrator, not Che Guevara.
Oh, the orchestra, the orchestra, the orchestra. Two orchestras for this “Evita” run at DPAC -- both touring and a DPAC orchestra of regional musicians. The music of Andrew Lloyd Webber requests the best performances from musicians, and DPAC audiences will experience it. Musicians are always the unseen characters underneath the stage, but their sound raises them up. At one point, this reviewer thought, “Wow, who is playing the drums?” That’s how much instrumentation stands out. Adam Wolfe, in the tour orchestra, is on drums, and from the DPAC orchestra, Les Webster is on percussion.
The scene and lighting design works so well, beginning with a screen showing scenes from Peron’s actual funeral above the cast members. Not every attempt at incorporating film footage works in a musical, but this does, and the fact that the screen fills the stage curtain to curtain helps pull it off. It also shows what a large presence Eva was in Argentina. A small screen simply wouldn’t do.
Casa Rosada, the presidential palace from which Eva sings to her people, is an impressive set, and light is used in a way to also tell the story of the Perons and sets the time period. Yes, lighting can do that.
The original “Evita” hit Broadway in 1979, and feels new in this production. It’s different than a lot of musicals on tour, and that’s a good thing.

WANT TO GO?

WHAT: “Evita”

WHEN: Through Sunday
WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St., Durham
TICKETS: $43-$122
www.dpacnc.com