Star Tribune Review: ‘Evita’ tour at Ordway is well-practiced art

Graydon Royce, Star Tribune 8/13/14

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stylishly wrought opera is a polished affair.

The national tour of “Evita,” spawned by the Broadway revival, has been on the road now for nearly a year, including a date last January in Minneapolis. Perhaps this is why the production that opened a week’s run at Ordway Center on Tuesday night bears the patina of practice, precision and pace. Shrouded in a mist of gray and black tones, Michael Grandage’s staging emerges into the bright lights that illuminated this enigmatic icon — a diva who still haunts the soul of Argentina.

These noble attributes, alas, made Tuesday night’s first act feel a little flat, absent the sense of immediacy — those dangerous “of the moment” occasions when Eva Duarte shed her tattered past and blossomed as a national celebrity. Notable exceptions such as Krystina Alabado’s tender “Another Suitcase in the Hall” only remind us that we haven’t had much chance to breathe in this roaring story. At intermission, one patron murmured, “Is that already the first act?”

Yes, and never let it be said that brisk and polished stagecraft are a bad thing. A modulating respite, though, can go a long way.

Then comes that gorgeous and electric moment at the top of the second act, as Caroline Bowman’s Eva steps forward on the balcony like a glittering white porcelain doll. “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” finds Bowman’s voice fragile in thanksgiving, powerful in exhortation. Her presence becomes something more than human — this long, muscled, fierce being who has become a raison d’être for her people.

Bowman allows in her performance Eva’s instant of disbelief in what she has become at age 26 and then the calculated determination to seize the day. Sean MacLaughlin’s Perón, a man who paved his own ambitious path, is a smitten schoolboy next to her. When she collapses in ill health toward the end, his howl of pain gives the clearest glimpse — just a glimpse — of grand opera in this piece.

Rob Ashford’s choreography, with its tango inflections, never feels more urgent than in the great “And the Money Kept Rolling In.” Here we see the passionate and reckless affair Eva carried on with the lower classes, all lubricated with money from her personal foundation. Everything clicks into place and this “Evita” finds its poignant conclusion.

All this is knit together by Josh Young’s virtuosic singing performance as Che — the musical’s narrator. Young knows well the Andrew Lloyd Webber canon, having sung Judas in his Broadway debut. His range, lung power and understanding of intention and purpose are first rate.

Some have called “Evita” Lloyd Webber’s masterwork. I don’t know that there is such a thing with this fantastically successful composer. His masterwork is whichever of his catchy scores becomes your favorite. If “Evita” occupies that position in your personal pantheon, this production is worth the effort. • 612-673-7299

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