Pioneer Press Review: ‘Evita’ at the Ordway: Narrator Che steals spotlight from title role
Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press 8/13/14
Is it wrong to wonder what it would be like if the lead in the Ordway’s “Evita” were played by a dude?
On the one hand: Yes, it’s wrong. Men already have enough theater parts and it would be unfair to give one of the towering roles for women to a guy. On the other hand, local companies such as Minneapolis Musical Theatre and Walking Shadow have shown that gender-blind casting can be revealing.
And, on that same hand, it’s hard not to wonder about a man playing the title role because the finest performer on stage at the Ordway’s “Evita,” by a very wide margin, is Josh Young — who is playing not Evita, but Che.
The staging of this touring production is dramatically different from the original Broadway and touring “Evitas”: It’s more representational, less stylized and abstract. But it remains an odd show in that it tells an epic story — the rise of Eva Duarte Peron from the gutter to First Lady of Argentina — on a surprisingly small scale.
There are two dozen people on the Ordway stage, but only four of their characters have names and only one or two of them qualify as actual characters about whom we know anything at all. The thematic goals of the show are muddled but, basically, it boils down to Evita (Caroline Bowman) sleeping her way to the top while a narrator, who is named Che (Young) and who represents the few people who refused to be seduced by Evita’s “star quality,” hollers at her about justice. (The same cast was at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis last January.)
We don’t have time to linger over any of the sung-through musical’s inconsistencies because of Michael Grandage’s fluid, cinematic staging, which has us in the next scene before we’ve had time to process the previous one, and Ron Ashford’s tango-based choreography, which asserts that tango is not just the language of seduction but also of power, grief and betrayal.
And, of course, there is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s finest score. With lyrics by Tim Rice, the terrific songs just keep coming in “Evita”: “Buenos Aires,” “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” the fiery “A New Argentina” (here given a staging that may remind some of “Les Miserables”). And, except for some of Bowman’s high notes and a thin sound in the orchestrations, this “Evita” does them justice.
Young does more than that. His Che is charismatic and funny and his singing is always powerful and clear, especially in “High Flying, Adored” and ‘”And the Money Kept Rolling In.” They are the highlights of this sturdy production and, particularly when he’s hitting his high notes with uncanny force, they are the songs that might make you wonder what he could do in a blond wig and pearls.
Chris Hewitt can be reached at 651-228-5552 or follow him on twitter.com/ChrisHMovie.