The power of political celebrity, ‘Evita’ on tour

Mar. 06, 2014 @ 10:27 AM

When Broadway producer Hal Luftig saw the original production of “Evita” in New York in 1979, it changed how he saw theater. It was the first time he had seen something sung through like that, and using very little set, he said. It starred Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin and won a Tony Award in 1980. “Evita” is the story of the rise of Argentina’s first lady Eva Peron in the 1940s.

Fast forward to London in 2006, when a new production debuted that was “authentic and completely reorchestrated,” Luftig said, with so much more knowledge of the Perons.
“We’ve also had a whole world change,” he said. “The idea of a political celebrity in the ’70s – who ever heard of that?”
When Luftig saw “Evita” in London, he knew they had to do it again on Broadway. He produced the Broadway revival in 2012, and it is now on a national tour coming to the Durham Performing Arts Center March 11-16.
There’s a full 17-piece orchestra, he said, reorchestrated by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The tour coming to DPAC features Caroline Bowman as Eva Peron. She was also in the ensemble of the original cast of “Kinky Boots,” which Luftig also produces.
“When we started casting for the tour of ‘Evita,’ she saw me at the table,” Luftig said. “She knocked it out of the ballpark. She’s an amazing Eva. Anyone who plays that role – you have to compare yourself to Patti LaPone. In musicals there are certain roles ‘owned’ by the original roles.”
Bowman portrays Eva from age 16 until her death at 33, all within two hours, and is herself the age that Eva was when she became first lady.
“This woman has to go from a power hungry kid to a woman whose body is failing her,” Luftig said. “It’s an amazing trajectory and she’s done it.”
Featured songs include “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” and “High Flying, Adored.” Luftig said that the story of “Evita” can be looked at as a cautionary tale: What you do with power, how popularity is very seductive, and how you can use that power for good or bad and anything in between, he said.
Eva and Juan Peron really did love each other, he said, and helped each other. He likens it to the Ronald and Nancy Reagan love affair.
“They did some good things, the Perons, and some bad things. I was down in Argentina six months ago and people are still divided on the Perons,” he said. “They spent like crazy without the care of financial considerations.”
“Evita” is clear not to paint Eva as all evil or all good, Luftig said. The character of Che, whose real timeline did not intersect with Eva, acts as social conscience or Greek chorus, he said.
Luftig stops in tour cities to see “Evita” when he has time, to make sure each city is “seeing the best production they can. It’s gorgeous. What you’re seeing is the designs of Broadway,” he said.
Luftig has been to Durham because of his previous work, like the tour of “Legally Blonde: the Musical.” Audiences here are great, he said, especially compared to some cities.
“You can just tell they’re excited to be there. In Durham they’re appreciative and pay attention. It’s palpable they want to be there,” he said.


WHAT: “Evita”

WHEN: March 11-16
WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St., Durham
TICKETS: $43-$122