EvitaBy Manning Harris

Can it really be 34 years since I saw the original Broadway “Evita” with Patti LuPone in the title role? It can, and it is. Both show and star won Tony Awards, and there was a tremendous excitement in the New York theatre world about “Evita,” based on the brief life of Argentina’s First Lady Eva Perón.

I hadn’t seen it live since, until the Broadway in Atlanta series brought the excellent national touring company to the Fox, where it will run through June 8. With lyrics by Tim Rice, music by Andrew Lloyd Weber, and direction by Michael Grandage, this “Evita” shimmers with Argentinian heat, aided by wonderful lighting by Neil Austin and scenic and costume design by Christopher Oram.

You probably know the essentially true story: An illegitimate 15-year-old girl (she’s portrayed a little older here) named Eva Duarte leaves small town Argentina for Buenos Aires with nothing but her good looks and fierce ambition to make good in the big city. “Hello, Buenos Aires!” she sings. Eva becomes a fairly well-known radio actress and soon meets Colonel Juan Perón and tells him “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You.” You know what? She’s right.

It’s a match made, if not in heaven, in the kingdom of very good sense. They both have a feeling for the descamisados, “the shirtless ones,” and they want to help them; it also makes very good sense, politically. Perón is almost, but not quite, as ambitious as Eva; and he needs her knife-sharp mind and instincts to become President. It happens.

From the very first, all of the action is commented on by Ché (beautifully played by Josh Young). He’s quite cynical, sardonic, and I’ve always found him rather a pain—even 34 years ago. I mean, give a girl a chance; yes, sexual favors and good looks (and keen intelligence) may have gotten her this far, but so what? Who’s perfect? Eva’s got “just a little bit of star quality,” and you want to root for her. She’s not going to be around that long, anyway.

Evita (that’s what she’s called now, once she becomes First Lady) is played by Caroline Bowman, and it’s a truly lovely performance. She, too, has a flexible, beautiful voice, dances very well, and can act up a storm. The only thing she lacks—which is totally not her fault—is the star quality she sings about; and this is simply because Ms. Bowman is not famous—yet. You recall the lush 1996 movie version was perfectly cast with an exceedingly famous person: Madonna. It was, for many reasons, a savvy decision (please don’t tell me Madonna can’t sing as well as LuPone or Bowman; I know that). But she had other assets; we shan’t quibble.

Finally, Perón is played flawlessly by a handsome Sean MacLaughlin, who also sings superbly. This means our three leads are vocally superb, and they are fine actors. All of them, and much of the entire cast, have exciting Broadway and New York credits, as well as film and TV work.

Before Ms. Bowman, as Evita, appears on the balcony of the Casa Rosada to sing “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina,” there is a beautiful, pregnant pause; a glorious golden light appears in the spot where she will stand, and finally—and we gladly wait for it—she appears. Astoundingly beautiful, “dressed to the nines,” Evita slowly walks out and we are all, crowd and audience, her willing subjects. Ms. Bowman acts the song as well as she sings it, with perfect pauses and little gasps, as though she were improvising as she goes along. This moment alone is worth the price of admission.

Then, much too soon, Evita’s body begins to fail her. This saddens me. But first there is a “night of a thousand stars,” hot tangos, and fashion fit for the young Lauren Bacall. And music and dancing. It’s not perfect, but it’s quite a show.

For tickets and information, visit foxtheatre.org.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.