‘Evita’ explores controversial life of Argentine political figure

Plenty of people will be trapped in an L-tryptophan torpor following this year’s Thanksgiving feast.

But not Caroline Bowman.

She and her fellow thespians will be singing and dancing up a storm in “Evita.”

The national tour of the 2012 Broadway revival begins an eight-performance run Tuesday in The Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall.

Bowman, who plays “Evita” herself, alias Argentine political leader Eva Peron, says she’s “really excited” about the prospect of spending Turkey Day in Sin City. “Everybody’s joking about eating turkey and gambling on Thanksgiving.”

Before the performance, that is.

Once the curtain goes up and they’re onstage, they’re no longer in 2013 Las Vegas.

They — and the audience watching them — are transported to the 1940s and ’50s Argentina, courtesy of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice, as the Tony-winning “Evita” traces its title character’s meteoric rise from obscurity to star status in her native Argentina and beyond.

Offering sardonic commentary along the way: the fiery Che, who’s portrayed by Josh Young, a Tony nominee for his Broadway debut playing Judas in the 2012 revival of another Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical, “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Serving as the musical’s one-man Greek chorus, Che’s not quite as entranced by Evita as his fellow citizens seem to be.

For example, “Evita’s” title character sings of her devotion to her people, claiming she’s “ordinary, unimportant, and undeserving of such attention unless we all are — I think we all are.” But Che counters with the accusation that “you let down your people, Evita,” claiming “she didn’t say much, but she said it loud.”

Don’t ask Bowman whether “Evita’s” Eva Peron ultimately deserves more adulation than scorn, however.

“I think that’s what’s lovely about the show,” she says during a telephone interview from the tour’s Los Angeles stop. “It’s up to the audience to decide how they feel about her.”

Bowman has already decided, commenting that “I don’t think all of her actions are coming from a vindictive” place.

Acknowledging that “she was a pretty expert manipulator” and “knew how to get what she wanted — with sex and her skills as an actress,” Bowman adds that “Evita’s” Eva Peron “seems so genuine,” despite the fact that she was “very flawed.”

After all, “going from the slums to the most powerful woman” in her country remains “an incredibly fascinating story,” the actress says. And thanks to the musical’s “inside view” of her rise and fall, “you see who she was — a young woman, uneducated,” who “believed she deserved more, and wanted more, and she made it happen.”

Of course, Evita’s not the only major player in “Evita.”

In addition to Che, who serves as the audience’s guide, there’s Juan Peron (played by Sean MacLaughlin), an ambitious military man climbing Argentina’s political ladder — a climb made considerably easier after he and Evita team up in their quest for “A New Argentina.”

Overall, “we’re all telling the same story,” Bowman says of “Evita’s” three major characters. “It’s cool to see the shifts in power” as the tale progresses.

Beyond “Evita’s” focus on political ambition, another element underlines what Bowman sees as the show’s continuing relevance: its portrait of a beloved public figure who becomes an international celebrity, only to die at the height of her fame.

In Eva Peron’s case, cancer struck her down at age 33. But her rise-and-fall saga carries echoes of subsequent figures such as Britain’s ill-fated Princess Diana.

Or, as Che sings, “High flying, adored, so young, the instant queen … did you believe in your wildest moments all this would be yours, that you’d become the lady of them all?”

Such “lyrics are so poignant — and it’s so relevant to today,” Bowman says. “Fame is fleeting — it’s over before it starts.”

Playing such a compelling character has its challenges, she notes, especially “to have enough energy to do the show (multiple) times a week,” in part because she “barely ever leaves the stage.”

To Bowman, “it’s all about building stamina and endurance, figuring out how to do the same show Saturday night that you did on Tuesday night,” she says.

In addition to getting “a ton of sleep,” Bowman works out and does yoga regularly. And even if she misses an exercise session, “the show is certainly a workout,” she says. “I really have to get myself revved up to do this.”

As a result, “I’m very hyper before the show starts,” Bowman says. And “by the end of the show,” when Eva’s suffering from the cancer that would kill her, “I’m exhausted anyway,” she acknowledges — which makes it even easier to convey Evita’s final illness.

But at least she’s only got one show to worry about these days.

During the three-month “Evita” tryout process, Bowman spent her days auditioning and her nights performing in the ensemble of another Tony-winning musical “Kinky Boots.” (The latter launches its own national tour at The Smith Center next year.)

It was “a tough show to leave,” Bowman says of “Kinky Boots,” noting that the creative team — director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell, writer Harvey Fierstein and composer Cyndi Lauper — “knew I had to come and do this role.”

Even so, “when you do a revival, you have to have a reason for doing it,” Bowman says.

And in “Evita’s” case, that reason involves “trying to strip it down and make it really authentic,” she says. “It’s all so simple. It’s about the story.”

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

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