History provides juicy material for theatrical events such as “Evita,” the pop opera based on the short and tumultuous life of the first lady of Argentina, Eva Peron. Then comes the writers’ imagination, in this case Tim Rice conjuring the character of Che, the narrator-conscience of the award-winning show. Original director Harold Prince further roiled the pot by changing Che from an Everyman to a revolutionary figure a la Che Guevara, adding another dimension to the title character‘s relationship with the people beyond the balcony.
“Evita,” with music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Mr. Rice, became the first West End import to win a best musical Tony when it bowed in 1979. The national tour that marches into the Benedum Center in a new century finds a different creative team with different ideas about getting it done and Che returning to his roots.
Josh Young has been touring the country in the role and was under the weather in Buffalo recently when he discussed ”Evita” by phone. The actor received a 2012 Tony nomination and Theatre World Award for his Broadway debut as Judas in Mr. Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar,” but he had already embraced Che by then.
“The first time I played Che was in 2010 at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario,” the Wallingford, Pa., native said through sniffles. “Then lucky for me the producer of this production, the Broadway production, saw me do it and offered me this job.”
The role as he is playing it now is more in line with Che in the movie starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas in 1996 , followed by a London revival in 2006 and then Broadway in 2012, both adapted by Michael Grandage and choreographer Rob Ashford, and with the Pittsburgh CLO among the producers in New York. The newer versions returned Che to his original concept and introduced the Oscar-winning song “You Must Love Me” to the stage.
This production also brings the dance in a way the original never did. "There's a way of using tango as the basic language of the people," Mr. Ashford told the Wall Street Journal in 2012.
Adding dance is one thing, but tinkering with a Hal Prince show is quite another. The creative team even issued a statement, saying, "The narrating role of 'Che' is reverted to the way it was written for the original concept album – as an 'everyman' of the lower/working class, serving as the voice of the people.“
“What‘s changed most is my character,” said Mr. Young, also pointing out that the definition of “che” in Spanish is “man” and that Guevara never crossed paths with Eva Peron.
“I feel like my whole job is to connect with the audience and get them on the edge of their seats every night,” Mr. Young said of the role that was originated by Mandy Patinkin and became Ricky Martin’s Broadway debut. “Eva can distance herself from the audience ... but my job is to reel them back in and make them focus. It’s a fun job.”
The Eva to his Che is Penn State graduate Caroline Bowman, a recent ensemble member of the Tony-winning musical “Kinky Boots,” who was a standby Elphaba for Broadway’s “Wicked.”
The charismatic Evita, as she was affectionately known to the people who adored her during her rise to power alongside President Juan Peron, represented glamour and a new hope for the common man until a cloud of controversy descended on her and her husband and civil war roiled beneath the balconies of the presidential mansion.
This Eva‘s wardrobe takes its cue from the real thing.
“They really tried to replicate what she wore in life, down to the teeniest tiniest details … the way it buttons or snaps, everything,” said Ms. Bowman, who steps into the role that earned Patti LuPone her first Tony. “The costumes were a factor in finding the character, and over time I have discovered more and more about this role. I’ve grown and shifted and molded into it how me, Caroline, is playing and not everyone else.”
It has been easy for her to get caught up in the show’s most well-known scene, when Eva steps onto the balcony and sings “Don‘t Cry for Me, Argentina,” an emotionally fraught song packed with regret and defiance.
Ms. Bowman has been thrilled to to have had the time a touring company allows to continue to explore the role, and it’s not just the long shadow of the woman she plays, who rose from the slums of Argentina to the presidential palace, where she spent six years until her death in 1952 at age 33.
The title character isn‘t the only long shadow cast by the role.
“I hope people keep an open mind because that’s the best way to go into any show. Clearly I am not going to be Patti LuPone or Elaine Paige. Although we tell the same story, but now it‘s told in my way. I think if nothing else, [’Evita‘] starts a conversation about a woman who lived this fascinating, crazy life in a very short amount of time.”
Sharon Eberson: email@example.com or 412-263-1960. Twitter: SEberson_pg.