Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through September 28, 2014
By Walt Haggerty
Although “Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats” have racked up considerably longer runs, “Evita,” which first arrived on stage in 1978, remains Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best work to date. Currently, the Bushnell is offering a production of “Evita” based on its most recent Broadway revival, and it is a triumph.
A rags to riches story of a poor country girl with lofty ambitions, “Evita” transports its heroine, step by carefully calculated step, from “groupie,” to radio personality, to film actress, to mistress to the most powerful military man in Argentina, and finally to First Lady, with eyes focused on the country’s Vice Presidency.
Without question, the centerpiece of this production is Caroline Bowman, who delivers a luminous portrayal of a woman determined to achieve her goals as she rises to an iconic pinnacle of adoration from her legion of followers. Bowman is superb as was recognized by Tuesday evening’s audience following her Act II performance of the “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” anthem – a spectacular moment!
Max Quinlan performs the role of Che impeccably as an observer and sometimes participant in the action, narrating and filling in gaps in the story of Evita’s rise from obscurity to stardom. Quinlan’s waltz with Evita is a gem. Sean MacLaughlin’s characterization of Peron diminishes the stiffness of earlier interpretations as it humanizes him and adds a layer of warmth.
Christopher Johnstone, as the appropriately oily Magaldi, and Krystina Albado, as Peron’s pathetically rejected young mistress, each contribute excellent performances in secondary, but key roles.
The large cast, meticulously directed by Michael Grandage, performs beautifully. What appears to be some judicious pruning of the book, allows for additional and welcome opportunities to feature the excellent choreography of Rob Ashford. Handsome and effective settings and costumes by Christopher Dram grant precisely the right touches, ranging from poverty to elegance.
A somewhat reserved audience throughout Act I rose to the occasion with gusto following Act II with a well-deserved standing. With this production of “Evita” the Bushnell has set a high mark for the remaining productions of their annual Broadway Musical series.