By: Alex Spindler ~Staff Writer~
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sweeping operatic tragedy, “Evita,” takes a momentary pit stop at the Aronoff Center for the Arts in downtown Cincinnati. Much like Webber’s other mega-hits, “Evita” features a boisterous score filled with eclectic melodies, heartbreaking ballads and sung-through dialogue that easily picks the pockets of theater-goers internationally.
His line of whopping successes from “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Sunset Boulevard” to “Cats” and “The Phantom of the Opera” began on the coattails of the commercial appeal of “Evita.”
With this production, it’s easy to see why. “Evita” chronicles the life of famed First Lady of Argentina Eva Duarte de Perón, affectionately called Evita by the people of 1940s Buenos Aires.
From her escape of the slums of Los Toldos to her promiscuous ascension to the presidential office, Evita is portrayed as a cunning though manipulative figure who first seeks fame but then assumes a new role as Spiritual Leader of the Nation to her people.
The omniscient narrator, Che, guides us through her life beginning and ending the production with an international announcement of her death due to cervical cancer. Along the trip, the audience witnesses a substantial influx of political, historical and romantic influences that forever shape Argentina ’ s history.
Desi Oakley, playing the role of Evita as understudy to the tour’s principal lady, Caroline Bowman, displayed a chilling sexiness with powerhouse pipes. To say that this was a “leading-lady” performance is an absolute understatement.
When Evita took the stage to sing the show’s signature tune, “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” the audience gasped at Oakley’s gorgeous singing and appearance. Josh Young, recent Tony nominee for another Webber hit, “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Broadway, played Che with a cool cynicism that saw right past Evita’s scandalous trickery. Not only did he serve as a third-party narrator, but he literally placed himself in the various settings to aid the narrative with a heavenly tenor voice.
The score is undeniably Webber’s most beautiful work and never falls shy of Latin American flair. Additionally, the thematic nature of the show echoes previous triumphs in Hispanic musical theater material like “West Side Story” and “Man of La Mancha.” The production’s choreography at times swept the audience members into a frenzied tango and at other moments enchanted them with a sensual waltz. The beauty of the scenic design gave “Evita” a rustic feel while the costume design appropriately portrayed two sides of Argentina’s social class system: the abjectly impoverished and the elite bourgeois.
One would think that a sung through operetta with practically no spoken dialogue and depressing subject matter would bore and disappoint. Yet “Evita” shined through in all the right places, leaving the audience filled to the brim with compassion, pure excitement and saturated tissues. It is classics like this that make American audiences hungry for the beauty of musical theater.