“Evita” — My Kind of Feminist

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I can already tell I will like it. That possibly had something to do with the fact that I got front row-ish  center seats for free as a press agent. I know, give the plebs some bread and we will be happy. But there is something magical about the overly decadent Adrienne Arsht Center; something dazzling about the Ziff Ballet Opera House Stage.

The lights, a little dimmed, matched the mahogany paneling. The forest green chairs weren’t as comfortable  as they were ornate. The band is playing in the background, the people are teeming in no doubt in anticipation of the shockingly feminist story of Evita Peron. The lights dim further. Here we go.

“Evita,” obviously named after the Argentinian first lady Evita “Eva” Peron in the 1940’s, is a story about ambition, feminism, politics, sex and power. The story begins with Eva’s death, with a crowd mourning the loss of Eva and the cheeky narrator Che, who brought some humor the otherwise serious subject matter by calling her a well placed actress with no substance and asking a few characters if all their one night stands gave them this trouble, referring to Eva’s demanding characteristics.

What I liked most, or possibly least, I haven’t decided yet, is that the story didn’t sugarcoat Eva’s past. They openly showed Eva’s humble beginnings as an aspiring actress, her carrying on with multiple men (a salacious action for the 40s) and a fiercely power-hungry personality. This story showed how her humanitarian work came from a deep-rooted desire for power and public adoration. I think the part that annoyed me most was Eva’s ability to climb the social latter that depended on which man she seduced at the time. I guess it would have been too much to ask in that time period for her to rise to power on her own. But maybe that’s what makes this story so tragic; a women who came from nothing, rose to power, cared for the poor while isolating the middle class all through the security of her husband’s name.

From the beginning I was captivated. From the opening number to the final bow, I found that I was leaning forward, anxiously waiting to see what happened next. There was never a pause, having a fast pace that kept the audience completely invested the whole time. Aside from the seemingly flawless set and costumes, the music kept even a diagnosed ADHD person interested in the story from start to finish.

The most extraordinary part was the singing and dancing. The singing by all cast members blew my mind for lack of a better phrase. Especially when Caroline Bowman, who played Eva, sang. She filled the whole theatre which is not an easy feat considering how big and wide it is. Che, played by Josh Young, voice was honestly something I’ve never heard before. I am not familiar with the proper musical vernacular, but he could nail all ranges from high to low, with the power to back the notes. I would even bet that he didn’t even need the microphone to be heard.

The dancing was even better than the singing, if that is to be believed. The entire ensemble was on point with every step. Heavy with versions of the tango and jazz, the up beat tempos were matched with lively choreography, and expertly performed by the dancers.

There was never a lull in the plot line. That’s not surprising considering the story took place over a 15 year time span, and had only two hours to work with. It didn’t feel rushed though, it was the perfect blend of alacrity and explanation.

I think the best performance Caroline Bowman. Her stage presence rivaled that of Beyoncé’s. When she sang, danced, or acted she was the center of attention. In her interview she talked about reading negative reviews, I honestly don’t know how anyone could write anything negative about Bowman. She is clearly a star, and owns it. If the talent doesn’t captivate you, her confidence will.

Sean MacLaughlin, who played Juan Peron, was in a word spectacular. However, because of our interview, all I saw was MacLaughlin in a pound of white and grey makeup with shaving sheers singing about pretty women and Johanna as Sweeney Todd. This imagery could have something to do with why I am so enamored with his performance as Peron.

The most surprisingly moving performance was by the mistress of Juan Peron, played by Krystina Alabado. Her solo song made me cry; literally. Her sad song about being down and out and having no place to go after Eva kicks her out was so moving I moved to the end of my seat.

I, clearly, enjoyed this show. I can’t speak for non-musical enthusiasts but I thought it was really well done, down to the mysterious and bright lighting. It’s certainly not like watching movie, which might not be to everyone’s taste, but then you will be missing out on a truly unique experience. There is something about seeing a show live that reminds you why the arts are so powerful to an audience.

“Evita” plays at the Adrienne Arsht Center until June 1, 2014. For more information or to purchase tickets the website is www.arshtcenter.eventticketmaster.com. And in my opinion, it is a must see.

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